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        Bella Vista: An Unseen View of WWII | Internment of Italian Civilians at Fort Missoula

        Bella Vista was a World War II internment camp at Fort Missoula, Montana and home to more than 1,000 Italian civilians. Seized eight months before Pearl Harbor, these men effectively became the United States' first-and perhaps the luckiest-causalities of war.

        With these video and curriculum resources, students will define vocabulary words related to internment and analyze the impact of the United States’ wartime policies directed at Italian civilians and other cultural groups during WWII. 

        Bella Vista | From Italy to America

        To avoid the levels of poverty that resulted from Benito Mussolini’s fascist policies, young Italian men joined the shipping industry, delivering cargo around the world. Many of these men landed in the United States.

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        Bella Vista | Italian Ships Seized

        In March 1941 the U.S. Coast Guard seized an Italian ship docked in New Jersey. The Italian crew was later interned though the United States had yet to officially enter WWII. The seizing of the ship was the first use of U.S. armed force in WWII.

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        Bella Vista | Internment

        The U.S. seized additional Italian ships in the spring of 1941.1,000 Italian men were jailed at Ellis Island and were later interned at Fort Missoula, an inactive army post in the Rocky Mountains.

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        Bella Vista | Fort Missoula or “Bella Vista”

        The internees at Fort Missoula coined the camp “Bella Vista” (beautiful view) due to the area’s beautiful natural surroundings. The men quickly organized into a self-governing and self-sufficient community.

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        Bella Vista | Life Inside Bella Vista

        Bella Vista was heavily guarded. Initially, dozens of men shared dormitory-style rooms until they built themselves wooden barracks in which to house themselves. Meals were plentiful—cooking was a way the men made themselves feel at home.

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        Bella Vista | Recreation

        Along with their day to day duties, the internees at Bella Vista had ample time for cultural and recreational pursuits. They played soccer, held bocce ball tournaments, hosted film screenings, held theater performances, and gave music lessons to Missoula locals.

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        Bella Vista | Removal from Bella Vista

        In late 1941, 600 Japanese American detainees arrived in Bella Vista. They and 200 Italians internees were moved to new camps across the U.S. Located in barren, isolated areas, these camps had much rougher conditions and lacked the welcoming atmosphere of Bella Vista.

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        Bella Vista | New Camps

        Due to their isolation, the new internment camps took a mental toll on the Italian internees. Numerous mental disorders were reported at the camps.

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        Bella Vista | Closing Bella Vista

        Bella Vista was closed in 1944 after Italy surrendered to the Allied forces. A majority of the Italian internees were deported. Two dozen internees were subsequently drafted to fight for the U.S. army.

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        Bella Vista | Becoming U.S. Citizens

        A number of former internees from Bella Vista later became U.S. citizens. Some chose to remain in the Northwest, making lives in places such as Washington and Montana.

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        Bella Vista | Final Reflections

        Some former internees feel uncomfortable discussing their experience at Fort Missoula. Others feels their experience, though not ideal, may have ultimately offered more security than they would have received if they had remained in Italy.

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