YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For attorney Daniel Rossi, his time in the military and his service during World War II provided the training and discipline necessary to lead a successful career as a lawyer in Mahoning County.
But, he says, it was the work ethic and pride in his country his father instilled in him that set him on that path.
Now 94, the founder of the Rossi & Rossi law firm sits in his home in the Newport Village section of Boardman and recalls growing up the only son of August and Augusta (Mastrantonio) Rossi on the East Side of Youngstown.
August Rossi emigrated to America from San Vito Romano, Italy, when he was 16. He quickly learned English and became an American citizen, then was drafted into the U.S. Army.
August achieved the rank of private and served in World War I as part of the American Expeditionary Force that fought against the German army in the Argonne Forest in France. During combat, August was gassed and lost his sense of smell.
“In that day, they gassed one another. That was an ordinary thing to do,” his son says. “They did things to kill one another for no damn reason at all.”
His father survived the war and came home to America to start a family. Rossi still has his father’s helmet, which he keeps with other memorabilia.
“He served America and was very proud to do it. He thought America was wonderful and he served with allegiance to America.”
Both of Rossi’s parents were Italian immigrants. His mother didn’t speak English initially, so Rossi grew up speaking only Italian, “which is, as you might suspect, a very great disadvantage in that area,” as many European immigrants faced prejudice.
Rossi learned to speak English while attending the former Madison Elementary School in Youngstown and taught his mother enough so she could become a U.S. citizen.
As he got older, he attended East High School and was discharged at 2 p.m. daily to work at the Youngstown Municipal Railroad Co., where his father worked and helped his 12-year-old son get a job there as a waterboy.
“He saw to it that I grew up working for people who were intelligent and successful,” Rossi says. “Because of my dad’s doing, I was subjected to people who were influential in my life and taught me a lot.”
Rossi brought water to the workers who tore railroad tracks apart. This was during World War II when the workers retrieved the iron in the tracks for the war effort, he says.
In 1944, when Rossi turned 17, he wanted to enlist to join the war.
“Why would they [the Japanese] do that [attack on Dec. 7, 1941]? When they knew that ultimately, America itself was 10,000 miles away? And there’s no way they could win a war against a giant like that, which proved to be true,” Rossi says. “At the time, I had nothing but hatred for the Japanese for what they did to Pearl Harbor.”
Because Rossi was still a minor, he needed his father’s permission, which he initially wouldn’t give.
“He had been through it all,” Rossi says. “He was very opposed to my going into the service because he felt that war was hell. And it is hell. He wanted to prevent me from going into the service. But there was no way of doing that.”
Knowing his son would be drafted when he turned 18, August signed off for Daniel to enlist in the U.S. Navy.
Initially, Rossi wanted to join the Air Corps to become a pilot, he says. But at 6-foot 3-inches and 182 pounds., he was too big to fit in the cockpit of a fighter plane, he says.
As a Navy recruit, Rossi demonstrated a proclivity toward math. His superiors suggested he attend radar school in Pensacola, Fla., which he thought was a great idea, he says, because he would get an education.
To attend radar school, however, he would have had to commit to six years in the Navy. Until that time, he was enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Having just turned 18, he declined the offer. “I didn’t want to tie up six years of my life as a sailor,” he says.
“That has proven to be the most significant decision I made at that early age,” he says. “Since I turned them down, in three weeks I was in the Philippines.”
Rossi had never been out of Youngstown until then.
“I didn’t know what the hell was going on and was scared every day of my life,” he says. “But I knew that it was a wonderful opportunity to serve my country. And my dad had taught me that this country is the greatest.”
Rossi served 16 months, most of that during peacetime, and six years in the reserve, he says. After the war ended, he served aboard the USS Cape Johnson, transporting troops from island to island.
Still, the time he spent serving during the war was enough to give him a new perspective. While he enlisted with the intent to fight Japan, his mindset changed after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“There’s no reason why we did what we did to Hiroshima,” Rossi says. “Why am I critical? We dropped them on civilians. … They could have dropped those bombs on military establishments and established the same damn effect.
“Most people don’t have anything to do with wars. It’s the politicians. They get us into the wars and they control the facts and they release what they want,” he continues. “They lie to sustain their position and we have no way of disproving it at that time. And that includes the Vietnam War and the Korean War. And certainly this crap that we’ve gone through for 15 years in the Middle East.”
Upon returning home, Rossi found himself a member of the so-called “52/20 Club.” For 52 weeks, the government paid him $20 for his service during the war. “That’s how negligent they were about taking care of us,” he says.
Despite his feelings toward war, Rossi says he is grateful for his military service. He believes all Americans should serve at least one year in the military.
“What I learned when I was 17 and 18 on behalf of my country is irreplaceable,” Rossi says. “It helped me significantly in the development of my future.”
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the G.I. Bill, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt, enabled Rossi to pursue an education in law. Rossi enrolled at then Youngstown College and later Ohio Northern University, where he also worked in the library to help to pay for the rest of his tuition.
After graduation, he returned to Youngstown to practice law. It’s then he met his future wife, Mary Rossvanes, who worked as a secretary for a lawyer in the office next door. The couple had five children. There are eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
In 1952, he founded the Rossi & Rossi law firm in Youngstown and specialized in divorce cases. However, Rossi later decided to focus on personal injury cases instead.
“That’s where the money is,” Rossi says with a laugh. “I tried more cases than I think any other lawyer in Mahoning County, mainly accident cases.”
Rossi practiced law until he was 81, when he tried his final jury case. His son, Gregg, now runs the law firm.
As a father, Rossi says he worked to pass on to his children the work ethic his father instilled in him and to provide them an education.
Daughter Lisa Fitzpatrick works as a financial professional with Prudential in Florida.
Although his law career kept him busy, Rossi was a supportive father, she says, and always made time for his family.
“My father was always here every night for dinner,” Fitzpatrick says. “Growing up, we all sat around the table every night for dinner.”
The Rossi family has lived in the same house for 50 years. And Daniel Rossi has no intention of leaving.
“When we first moved here, you know, we’re very close to the city. And I said, ‘OK, maybe we’ll do it. But in 10 years, we’re out of there.’ ” Rossi recalls. “You couldn’t move me out of here with a bulldozer now. I love the area so much.”
Pictured at top: Daniel Rossi says his service with the U.S. Navy during World War II gave him the discipline for a successful law career.