“Hero of Two Worlds,” Friend, Nov. 1971, 36
Giuseppe Garibaldi ran along the waterfront toward some fishermen.
“Take me with you,” he pleaded. “I can help man the sails or haul the nets.”
The fishermen laughed. “Hey, Peppino,” one of them called. “Are you playing truant from school again?”
Everyone called the boy Peppino, a nickname for Giuseppe. He was born in Nice, Italy (now part of France), in 1807.
Giuseppe frowned. He wanted to go to sea like his father and his grandfathers had done for years. But his parents insisted he go to school.
Giuseppe spent all the time he could along the waterfront. He was an excellent swimmer. His muscles were hardened by climbing the ropes of ships at port.
When Giuseppe was fifteen years old, he and some friends set sail for Genoa to find adventure and fortune as sailors. A few miles out to sea they were caught. After punishing his son, Giuseppe’s father decided he should send him to sea.
Within ten years Giuseppe Garibaldi was captain of his own ship. It was during these years that he decided to dedicate his life to a free and united Italy.
For many years, ever since the fall of the great Roman empire, Italy had been divided into small territories. Each territory was ruled by a different power. The Italians did not have freedom of assembly, religion, or speech. Most of them were not allowed to learn to read or write, and high taxes kept the people poor and hungry.
In 1834 Garibaldi took part in an unsuccessful revolution. To avoid going to prison, he disguised himself as a peasant and escaped to France.
Now he was a political exile. Since he could not go home, he decided to go to South America, where he became the leader of Italian exiles there. They were known as the Italian Legion, and they fought for the independence of Brazil and Uruguay. These men refused to accept any money for their service because they had not earned it peacefully. The government of Uruguay gave them red woolen shirts, which they wore for uniforms. The Red Shirts, as they were soon called, became a symbol of hope and freedom even in their native Italy.
One day after Garibaldi had been fighting for a town in Brazil, he saw a beautiful young woman named Anita. A bond of love was formed between them the first time they met, and the young couple eloped a few nights after their first meeting. Anita’s love for freedom of nations equaled that of her husband. She fought beside him in South America and later in Italy.
In 1847 several cities in Italy began trying to overthrow their foreign rulers. Garibaldi had been waiting for this. He sent Anita with their three small children to Nice to stay with his mother while he remained in South America, where he gathered his Italian Legion and made preparations for them to sail to Italy. These exiled men were eager to go back home to fight for their own country. They sailed to Nice and from there began the long struggle from northern Italy down into the south.
His men loved Garibaldi. He never asked any of them to do anything he wouldn’t do. He always led them in their battles and fought as hard as they did. This leader ate meals with his men and wore the same kind of clothes they did. They found him always humble, gentle, and fair.
One time some enemy officers were captured and brought before Garibaldi. He had been so feared by the opposing armies that the officers expected to face a cruel, harsh person. To their surprise, this great man shook their hands, told them they had fought bravely, and offered sympathy that they had been captured.
During the battle to defend Rome, Garibaldi was wounded in his side. He hid the injury with his poncho and quietly told the surgeon to secretly visit him that night, for he didn’t want his men to know he had been wounded.
The siege of Rome lasted a long time, because the revolutionary army was so small. Garibaldi refused to surrender, but he knew that if fighting in the city continued, every structure in Rome would be destroyed. His love for this city was so great that he decided to move the fighting up to the mountains to save the city.
Anita had come from Nice to help her husband. She refused to leave him even though they were both in great danger. A few weeks later she became sick and died. Although it was difficult, Garibaldi fought on to achieve their common hope for a free and united Italy.
He had no desire to rule, but only wanted to free the people. Victor Emmanuel, who was a just man, had become king over most of northern Italy. Garibaldi had won many battles in the south. The king was afraid Garibaldi, who was very popular, might be tempted to take over the kingdom. But when the two men met, Garibaldi greeted Victor Emmanuel as his king, and he asked the people to do so too.
Garibaldi was offered titles and money for himself and for his children, but he would not accept them. He chose instead to settle with his children on a small farm.
Italy became a united kingdom; today it is a republic. The people of Italy have a special feeling of gratitude for their country and for the sacrifices of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Every city and village has a street or square named for Garibaldi, or a monument built in honor of this man who loved his country and fought for its freedom.