[Note: this story was released on Veteran’s Day]

A tribute to all veterans and the story of my grandfather form the second world war

As I pay tribute to all Veterans, my thoughts drift to the story of my grandfather, who served as the subject of one of my paintings. During the Second World War, he chose to defy the law and covertly evade military service.

This is the inspiring narrative behind my artwork, one that occurred during a unique time in history.

My grandfather, whom we affectionately called “Nonno Domenico,” was still living when I came into this world. Our bond was unique and meaningful, and he exuded a gentle and kind demeanor.

His wrinkled face framed his deep blue eyes, which I will never forget.

Unfortunately, when I was only five years old, he died in a senseless car accident that occurred right in front of his house.

He was walking on the side of the road and a car hit him. They never found the offender.

and old picture of my grandparents
An old picture of my grandparents

One day my parents told me his story.

During June, Hitler commanded the invasion of the Soviet Union, an operation known as “Barbarossa,” which was supported by the Italian army.

This region experienced some of the most significant battles and horrifying atrocities in history, all of which played a crucial role in shaping the course of World War II and the events that followed in the 20th century.

While serving in Russia alongside other Italian soldiers, my grandfather chose to desert the army covertly. At the time, he had a wife and a few children back home, with my mother yet to be born.

Deserting the army: the immense bravery and audacity of my grandfather

My grandfather’s main motivation for deserting was to avoid dying in battle and leaving behind his wife and children as orphans and a widow. His decision was an act of immense bravery and audacity, as he undertook the daunting task of walking back home, which took over 300 hours and spanned a distance of a thousand miles.

To avoid detection, he avoided main roads and traveled incognito.

path for russia to italy


Meanwhile, a covert resistance movement emerged among both the general population and the Italian army, ultimately leading to the downfall of Mussolini’s regime.

The toll of surviving an unimaginable ordeal

Upon returning from Russia, my grandfather had not only completed a journey equivalent to the distance from New Orleans to Washington or New York, but he also had to remain hidden underground for an entire year upon reaching home.

Just imagine having to spend every day hidden underground, isolated from the outside world, and only able to see your family at night.

My grandfather managed to survive this unimaginable ordeal, but the toll it took on him was severe. He was profoundly changed by the experience, becoming extremely withdrawn and reserved. He spoke very infrequently and suffered from intense nightmares.

When I first met my grandfather, I was too young to know about the hardships he had faced. Even if I had known, it’s hard to imagine fully comprehending the depth of his experiences as a child.

Now, 35 years later, I can only recall a handful of memories. I remember his eyes and his pipe, the smell of his cigarettes, his relaxed attire, and his sense of humor. I also remember how thin he was, with a belt that held up loose pants too big for his waist. He carried a knife he made himself.

Looking back now, I can’t help but think that if my grandfather had not been so courageous in defying the rules, I might not be here today to share his story.

While I believe it’s important to honor and remember the sacrifices of veterans and those who have given their lives to protect us, I also recognize that not every war is just or necessary.

Today, I am honoring my grandfather’s memory and celebrating the courageous decision he made to desert the war and save his own life, ultimately paving the way for mine.

Honoring my grandfather’s memory and celebrating his courageous decision

The original painting was sold in 2021 and is now owned by a private collector. It’s a watercolor on paper framed with a brown cigar leaf frame.

The emotional impact of sharing my grandfather’s story

One of my watercolor paintings, which included a portrait of my grandfather, was featured in my first gallery exhibition in America in 2021. The exhibition took place in St. Pete, Florida.

As I shared the story of my grandfather, I noticed a person next to me who was going through some strong emotions. He expressed how much he loved the painting and said, “We all have that man in our lives.”

I handed him the painting and told him that it was his. When I visited his home recently, his wife shared with me that they plan to keep it forever.

IMG 3940

No war is just or necessary: the true costs of war and sacrifices made by individuals.

My grandfather was a man who made a courageous decision during a time of war. He went against the law and deserted the military service, walking over a thousand miles to return to his family.

I am grateful for his decision to desert the military, which ultimately saved his life and allowed me to exist.


Through my grandfather’s story, I have come to the realization that no war is just or necessary. While we should honor those who have served, we must also acknowledge the true costs of war and the sacrifices made by individuals and their families.

The bravery shown by my grandfather in deciding to desert the army rather than risk leaving his family without a husband and father is a testament to the human spirit and our innate desire to protect and care for our loved ones. His actions have had a profound impact on my life and I am grateful for the opportunity to share his story with others.

This article was last updated on April 20, 2024 by Alex Righetto

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About the author

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Alex Righetto

Alex Righetto is an Italian artist based in the US, known for his vibrant and bold paintings that reinterpret Italian and European history in a contemporary context. His work has been featured in various exhibitions and publications, including Vanity Fair and Vogue