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President Bush, Prime Minister Berlusconi Salute Sons of Italy®

Reaffirm Strong US-Italy Alliance In War On Terrorism

Press Contact: Kylie Cafiero, (202) 547-2900

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2004 ­ President George W. Bush and Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi praised Italian Americans, the Sons of Italy® and the strong alliance between Italy and the United States during the Sons of Italy Foundation® (SIF) gala, May 19 in Washington, D.C.

The evening marked the first time a sitting U.S. president and a prime minister of Italy attended a major non-profit event in America together. They came for the 16th anniversary of the SIF's National Education & Leadership Awards (NELA) Gala held this year at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Addressing the military efforts of Italy and the U.S. in Iraq, President Bush said, "At this crucial moment in history, America and Italy are standing together as proud friends and strong allies in the cause of freedom."

"We will not be intimated by thugs and assassins. We will win this essential victory in the war on terror," he told an enthusiastic audience of 900 guests who gave him three a long, standing ovations during his speech.

The President also commented on the contributions of Mother Frances Cabrini, Marine Sgt. John Basilone and former New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, among others. They and millions of Italian Americans like them "brought to our country strength of character, a deep faith in God, love of family and an appreciation of freedom. Without question, America is a better place for the influence of the sons and daughters of Italy," he said.

In another historic first that evening, Prime Minister Berlusconi received the first Sons of Italy® International Man of Courage award for his support of the U.S. in its war against terrorism. It was presented by SIF President Paul Polo and OSIA National President Joseph Sciame.

Mr. Berlusconi spoke in Italian with his remarks simultaneously translated for the guests who were all supplied with headsets. He began by expressing gratitude to the U.S. for the sacrifice of young American military in World War II "that saved the world from totalitarianism." He said that thanks to the post-war U.S. Marshall Plan, Italy was able to rebuild itself, becoming the sixth most important economic leader in the world today.

The presence of 3,000 Italian troops in Iraq makes Italy is the third nation after the U.S. and Great Britain to have the most troops in that war-torn country. "We have the duty to assume our share of responsibility to help the weaker people in the world," Berlusconi said.

The prime minister praised the Sons of Italy® for its efforts to promote the study of Italian in American schools and thanked its members "for what you are doing in America." He said that normally he does not accept awards, but has made two recent exceptions to his rule. One was the Distinguished Statesman Award which he received last year from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. The other was this evening's SIF award, which he dedicated "to all the Italian soldiers who are fighting in Iraq."

In addition to Mr. Berlusconi, this year's honorees were Joseph J. Grano, chairman of UBS Financial Services; Frances M. Visco, Esq., president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition and John J. DeGioia, Ph.D., president of Georgetown University.

The event helped the SIF raise nearly one million dollars for scholarships, medical research, disaster relief and cultural programs. Since 1959, the SIF has given more than $87 million to these causes.

Dinner chairmen were Charles Gargano, who heads the Empire State Development Corporation and Robert F. Corrao, chairman and CEO of Sports Impact, Inc. The evening's hosts were Paul S. Polo and Joseph Sciame, respectively the president and chairman of the Sons of Italy Foundation®.

U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the House Minority Leader was a guest speaker. She noted that her parents used to take her to their Sons of Italy® lodge meetings when she was a child. "As Italian Americans, we were raised to be patriotic and proud of our heritage," she said.

Other guests included the U.S. ambassador to Italy Mel Sembler; Italy's ambassador to the U.S. Sergio Vento; AIDS researcher and former NELA honoree, Anthony Fauci, M.D.; labor leaders Martin Maddaloni and John Sweeney; Terry McAuliffe, chair of the Democratic National Committee; Undersecretary of State Pat de Stacy Harrison; Lee Jones of the College Board; James Zogby of the Arab American Institute; and Gordon Mansfield, deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

From the Congress, guests included U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro(D-CT); Nick Lampson (D-TX); John Larson (D-CT); and U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman(D-CT); Rick Santorum (R-PA); and Patrick Tiberi (R-OH) well as leaders from business and the arts.

Among the Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA) supporters were members and officers from the Grand Lodges of California, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania; members of several filial lodges including the George Washington Lodge #2038 and the Italia Mia Lodge #2796 both of Virginia; as well as members of the OSIA national executive board.

Master of Ceremonies was Chuck Conconi, Editor-at-Large at Washingtonian magazine. Tenor Michael Amanteand the troupe "100 Years of Broadway" performed and the very Rev. David M. O'Connell, president of the Catholic University of America, gave the benediction. Among the event's main sponsors were Alitalia, Banfi Vintners and UBS Financial Services.

The SIF is the philanthropic arm of the Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA), the largest and oldest national organization for men and women of Italian heritage in the United States. Italian Americans are the nation's fifth largest ethnic group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.