A Sacrifice: The story of an Italian WWI hero


This year marks a century since the beginning of World War I. To commemorate, we share the touching story of Italian soldier Cesare Mele, from Sezze, south of Rome.

A view of ancient Sezze, in southern Italy

While the Central Powers consisted of Austria-Hungary and Germany, Italy decided to remain neutral in 1914, and eventually joined the Allies (France, UK and Russia) in May 1915. Once they entered the conflict, 650,000 Italian soldiers died, 947,000 were wounded, and 600,000 disappeared or were captured as prisoners of war.

MyHeritage user Lucia Fusco shared the story of Cesare Mele, her courageous great-uncle , who, through his self-sacrifice, was able to save his own family.

Lucia Fusco

In 1918, Italian soldier Cesare Mele was on the Venetian front. After receiving letters from home written by an unfamiliar hand, he became worried and asked for permission to take a few days off to visit his family. He traveled for a few days to reach home.

Cesare Mele

When he arrived, the house was silent. He found the shutters closed and the front door open. His father, Antonio, had a high fever and did not recognize him. His mother, Filomena, begged him to be careful. The Spanish flu had struck the household, and they didn’t want him to get sick.

His brothers and sisters were also sick. His youngest sibling, Angelo, was only a few months old and was the sickest of all the family. Cesare had never even met him before joining the army.

Cesare did not give up hope, and worked tirelessly to nurse his family back to health. He prepared mulled wine and added quinine that he had from the army. Once cooled, he made sure that each family member drank the potion, except for baby Angelo, who was too young.

He rode to the Alberito, their meadow at Ceriara, where the family animals were held an tied to the olive trees. He He untied them and let them graze the fields. He made sure they were fed. He then planted and sowed beans so that the animals would have more food for the next season.

In the meantime, at home, Cesare’s parents and siblings began to recuperate and they eagerly awaited his return home. But Cesare had caught the flu, and on his return home, he went straight to bed. Filomena informed the Carabinieri that he had caught the Spanish flu, and he wasn’t able to leave the next day to return to the front lines. The officer replied that, dead or alive, he was required to return to the front.

Cesare remained in a flu-like state. Although he shared a room with his younger brothers and sisters and grandparents, he had no idea that his baby brother Angelo’s small coffin lay in the room next door. From time to time, Cesare was surprised not to hear him cry, but his mother told him that Angelo was at the neighbors.

Cesare became more and more ill, and when he felt that he was close to death, he asked his mother to fetch him some fresh water so that he could die alone, as a soldier. He didn’t have the courage to die with her by his side. He had arrived home only a few short days before, and had saved his whole family. He had given them all of his quinine, and had saved not even a drop for himself.

Filomena buried two of her children within hours of each other, both her oldest and youngest sons.

The gravestone of Cesare Mele

Sometime after the funerals, Filomena began to get things back in order. She went to the meadow to see how the animals had survived the trying time. When she arrived, she saw that the animals had survived and were alive and well. The meadow was blooming, and beans were just beginning to grow. It was then that Filomena recognized the depth of Cesare’s actions. Tears began to flow from her eyes, and between sobs, she kissed Cesare’s footsteps one by one, and she cried out to the sky.

Lucia wanted to share this amazing story of self sacrifice so that it would not be forgotten. When she was little, her parents and grandparents would tell the children the stories so that they would grow up knowing their family history. Nowadays, it is more important than ever to remember our family memories, and where we come from.

Cesare was a soldier who was also a hero. He gave up his own life to save his family, and will forever be remembered as a saint.

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  • Bernita Allen

    September 29, 2014

    What a beautiful story. Cesare was indeed a hero. Thank you for sharing it really touched my heart.

  • Janice

    September 29, 2014

    How amazing to think that it hadn’t been for a heroic great-uncle, your family may not have survived. Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • E. Carlesimo

    November 20, 2014

    Did he have a sister named Guilia who later married Luigi Carlesimo who died in 1953?