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Young Italian Jewish Army Officer Wins Rare Award for Bravery

December 1, 1939
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Lieut. Bruno Jesi, counsellor of the Union of Jewish Communities of Italy, today received his Gold Medal brevet from the War Office. The medal itself, it is understood, will be presented to Jesi by Premier Benito Mussolini on the first public occasion.

Being in possession of the brevet, however, Jesi is authorized to enjoy all the privileges of a Gold Medal bearer. The Gold Medal is given for the most outstanding military valor under fire and is nearly always awarded posthumously. To receive one while still living is an honor perhaps incomparable to military decorations in any other country.

Only 100 living Italian heroes have received the medal since its inception. These fought in the Ethiopian campaign of 1898, the Libyan campaign, the World War, the Ethiopian conquest and the Spanish War. Bearers of this rare award are always referred to as Medaglia d’ Oro. They receive honors above a general, even though they may hold the rank of private. They enjoy all the privileges of a senator, can enter any ministry unannounced, visit the King and Duce almost as a relative, travel on all trains free and on ships and planes for only a small fraction of the fare.

Jesi is only 23 years old. Although he was a student officer at the time, he left the academy and home to enlist as a private at the outset of the Ethiopian campaign. He has been decorated four times previously, including silver and bronze medals.

Heroism under fire while leading his men in combat against a large group of Ethiopian rebels on June 28, 1938, led to award of the Gold Medal. On that day, Jesi was wounded seven different times and although he was weak from loss of blood, he continued to direct the fight. His last wound was received while climbing a fence into the enemy’s stockade. His left leg was almost completely blown off by an Ethiopian’s point blank fire.

While being returned to his military base in a cart, his men were attacked by another group of rebels. He took personal command from his position in the cart and, despite his desperate condition, directed a successful defense. When Jesi’s commander learned of his part in the skirmishes, he immediately recommended him for a Gold Medal. That evening the young Jewish lieutenant’s leg was amputated. The next morning his mother read his obituary.

Jesi’s exploits are popular among Italian soldiers, up to and including Mussolini. This, despite his typical Italian Jewish name. The racial campaign started shortly after Jesi’s feat or he would long ago have been in possession of his Gold Medal. It is little short of a miracle that he is receiving it. It is felt that this honor to a Jew will reflect on the welfare of all Italian Jews.

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