Before you shake your head in befuddlement, understand we refer here to gangsters who fought in American wars and were decorated for their valiant efforts.
John "Johnny Green" Faraci, a Bonanno crime family member, was described as "a large-scale loanshark with numerous loanshark victims," who, by one law enforcement estimate, had half a million dollars in loans out on the street. He died in January 2011 at age 88.
Ten years before his death, the aging Bonanno soldier and three underlings faced federal loansharking charges after a would-be victim went to the FBI and agreed to wear a wire. "I got a nice baseball bat in my trunk; bust your legs up," one of Faraci's crew members said to the cooperator, according to the arrest complaint. In another taped conversation, the same guy bragged about his abilities: "Yesterday I got a hold of a young guy in my neighborhood. I gave him such a f-----g beating. . . . I've been doing this all my life."
The same Faraci landed at Normandy in 1944 and earned himself a Bronze Star for having fought Hitler's Wehrmacht across Europe.
George Barone, identified as one of the Mafia’s most feared hit men, also died in January 2011, at age 86.
Barone is suspected of personally murdering more than 20 people back in the days when the mob truly ran New York's waterfront.
He eventually flipped, supposedly when his own crime family put a price on his head. Barone then put numerous criminal cohorts behind bars.
Mobsters in the Genovese family rarely flip -- one report called Barone only the third member of the family to break the mob’s code of silence.
According to Gangland News (which seems to have gotten the year of Barone's death as well as his age incorrect -- errors by Jerry Capeci are as rare as Genovese soldiers flipping) Barone had volunteered at 18 to serve in the Navy.
Barone fought in battles on Guam, Saipan, Leyte, Luzon, and Iwo Jima. A radio man, his daily job was to guide landing crafts onto the beach. One of Barone’s many lifelong ailments from WWII was a respiratory illness. It started, he told friends, after he'd buried his face into Iwo Jima beach's black sand in an effort to evade the deadly ongoing Japanese shelling. "I breathed in so much of that damn sand, I’m still spitting it out,"' he'd tell friends.
He participated in the five "bloodiest invasions in the Pacific theater," Capeci wrote.
Barone returned home to become a founder of a street gang, the Jets -- yes, they were later immortalized in the musical West Side Story. Still, Barone was more about killing than choreography....
Going farther back to The Great War -- that's World War I -- we have the case of Edward “Monk” Eastman. A Brooklyn native who once was a pet store owner, he ran "one of the fiercest and most powerful gangs in New York City. According to legend, he would carve a notch in his beloved club each time he bashed in the head of a rival thug."
But by 1917 Eastman was addicted to opium and nearing a dead end. So at age 43, he sought a new start, and enlisted to serve in World War I after serving several jail sentences.
"When the examining physicians noticed the famously tough-looking Eastman’s poorly healed bullet wounds, scarred knuckles and marks from knife and razor cuts, he asked which battles the new volunteer had seen. “Oh, a lot of little wars around New York,” Eastman replied gruffly. He went on to serve honorably in France, returning home a hero—and resuming his life of crime shortly thereafter."
|"Matty the Horse" was a decorated vet.|
Some call this a parado
Another noted war vet/gangster was Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, a Genovese capo who also served in the South Pacific, where he got a Bronze Star for making a deliberate offensive charge directly into a Japanese machine gun nest. His New York Times obit (he died at 93 on August 15, 2012) barely mentions this. (Interestingly, In the 1970s, Ianniello disobeyed strict Mafia protocol when he assisted the authorities in the search for 6-year-old Etan Patz who disappeared on a Manhattan street. Ianniello was described by the Washington Post as: "a businessman in a world where brutality often spoke loudest, operating like a CEO rather than a street thug.")
Venero Frank "Benny Eggs" Mangano, also of the Genovese crime family, served as a bomber tail gunner with the United States Army Air Corps in Europe and was decorated with a Distinguished Flying Cross (for "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight") and an Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters and three Battle Stars.
Steve “The Rifleman” Flemmi, a Whitey Bulger associate and quite lethal mob killer, actually got his nickname not from his work on the street but rather in reference to his stint as a sharpshooter in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He enlisted at age 17 and served two tours of duty with the 187th Infantry Regiment and won both the Silver and Bronze Stars.
Carlo Mastrototaro died in 2009 at age 89, his obit noted, adding that he'd been frequently identified as both a "kingpin of organized crime in the Worcester area for much of the latter half of the past century and a highly decorated World War II combat veteran." A Genovese capo and a lieutenant of powerful New England mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarcha, his actions won him the Silver Star and a Purple Heart for being wounded during the Battle of Saipan He was mustered out of the Marines in 1944. His unit was virtually annihilated at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Meyer Lansky was reputed to have disrupted rallies by Nazi sympathizers in New York City (and later shipped arms to pro-Zionists fighting for an Israeli state, the creation of which was prompted by the Nazis' genocidal efforts). Lansky also supposedly helped the CIA-precursor known as the Office of Naval Intelligence‘s Operation Underworld to recruit criminals to watch for German infiltrators and submarine-borne saboteurs.
Lucky Luciano also allegedly helped the U.S. military in the invasion of Italy, as did the Sicilian Mafia, which reportedly patrolled the island's roads for snipers, provided guides over mountainous terrain and arranged safe passage for advancing troops (courtesy of Luciano).
(In return the U.S. army inadvertently helped revitalize the Sicilian Cosa Nostra by putting its erstwhile allies in political power positions all over Sicily.)
As for Operation Underworld, it involved the cooperation of organized crime figures who, from 1942 to 1945, served to counter Nazi spies and saboteurs mainly by protecting the U.S.'s northeastern ports, as well as by helping avoid wartime labor union strikes and limit theft by black-marketeers of vital war supplies and equipment.
However, after the war, Axis records showed no sabotage operations had existed. As well no evidence has ever been produced to indicate there had ever been underworld sabotage. The Normandie sinking was almost certainly an accident. (Albert Anastasia boasted that the mob had sank the ship and had been exploiting U.S. fears of Nazi sabotage to get Luciano out of prison. He was lying).
Fears about possible sabotage or disruption of the waterfront were indeed running high though. Commander Charles R. Haffenden of the ONI in New York set up a special security unit. He sought mobster Joseph Lanza, who ran the Fulton Fish Market, for help.
"Socks" Lanza suggested he approach Charles Luciano who was in Dannemora prison (since renamed Clinton, it is the prison from which the two inmates escaped earlier this month, on June 6, 2015) at the time serving a 30- to 50-year sentence for running a prostitution ring. (Many believe Luciano, though a murderous racketeer, was nonetheless railroaded by Thomas Dewey in this case. Salvatore Lucania was never the overlord of New York's whore houses but apparently lots of the city's hoodlums found it easier to use Luciano's name when they were collecting their money from the prostitutes.)
For his cooperation Luciano was moved to a more convenient and comfortable prison in May 1942.
Luciano’s influence in stopping sabotage remains unclear, but authorities have noted that waterfront strikes stopped after Luciano’s attorney, Moses Polakoff, contacted underworld figures who held influence over the longshoremen unions.
In 1946 Luciano's sentence was commuted. After serving 9½ years, he was deported to his native Italy.
If you're interested in this topic, two books we suggest you read are Rodney Campbell's 1977 The Luciano Project: The Secret Wartime Collaboration of the Mafia and the U.S. Navy and Tim Newark's more recent, 2007, Mafia Allies. The True Story of America’s Secret Alliance with the Mob in World War II.
We wanted to offer in closing what one early commenter to this story wrote, some four years ago. We don't necessarily agree--do you?
"Mobsters are only upward mobile Americans who took the route available.
"The establishment, the Yale educated upper crust members of the intelligence community guard the portals of power jealously. If not invited in, or worse excluded by birth, religion or ethnicity, then one must force his way in. Exactly what members of the Judaeo-Italian underworld did.
"Largely by providing malum prohibitum [a Latin phrase used in law to refer to conduct that constitutes an unlawful act only by virtue of statute as opposed to conduct evil in and of itself] services denied the populace by the upper crust, but desired by them none the less.
"On balance is America a better place for the availability of the services provided by the rackets, which are to a large measure victimless crimes? Acts by people claiming the right to do what they want with their time, money and bodies."