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WASHINGTON, DC, May 24, 2012 - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman to receive the Sons of Italy Foundation’s (SIF) Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Service, presented at the SIF’s 24th annual National Education & Leadership Awards (NELA) Gala on May 23, 2012, in Washington, D.C.

Also honored that evening were General Peter Pace (USMC ret.), the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Armand Sabitoni, secretary-treasurer of the Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA); and Claudio Bozzo, president of Mediterranean Shipping.

Secretary Clinton’s award was established three years ago to recognize the extraordinary public and humanitarian service to America by people who are not of Italian heritage. Clinton follows previous honorees Vice President Joe Biden (2009), President Bill Clinton (2010), and U.S. Senator Jack Reed (2011).

Secretary Clinton accepted her award via video because she was abroad. She said, “Regrettably, I am not of Italian descent, but you make everyone want to be because you have enriched our country. I am honored to receive this award from a group that has given so much.”

Gen. Pace was visibly moved during his acceptance speech as he recalled his immigrant Italian father who held two and sometimes three jobs so he could send his four children to college. He spoke of his wartime service in Vietnam as a young officer, and of 19-year-old Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro, an Italian immigrant and fellow Marine, who died in Pace’s arms, killed by a sniper. “It was his sacrifice that made me understand that I had to serve my country as long as I could,” he said. Gen. Pace is a 40-year veteran of the Marine Corps. He received the 2012 SIF Award for Courage and Patriotism.

Mr. Sabitoni received the SIF Humanitarian Award for his commitment to workers’ health and safety. He earned a law degree at night while working in construction and today holds the second highest position in LiUNA, which represents over 550,000 workers in the building industry. He said, “Only in America can a union labor leader from the smallest state and the grandson of Italian immigrants, be honored on the same stage as a U.S. secretary of state; a former top military advisor to the president, and a rising star in the international shipping industry. But that is the foundation upon which our nation was built.”

Mr. Bozzo, who heads the biggest steamship line in the U.S., received the SIF Award for Excellence in Business. Fluent in four languages, in 1994, he was hired as a clerk in the company he now heads and was made a Knight of the Italian Republic in 2004. “The Italian spirit of friendship helped make my company what it is today. Our secret is we invented the human Internet – the worldwide web of helping each other.”

Also present at this year’s gala were 10 talented young scholars of Italian descent, chosen from a highly selective national competition, who accepted substantial awards ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 that will enable them to attend some of America’s top colleges and universities.

Among the special guests were several Holocaust survivors, who were rescued by Italians during World War II, along with their descendents, and Arthur Berger, director of external affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. They were joined by author Elizabeth Bettina, whose book, “It Happened in Italy,” recounts the little-known story of how Italians saved 80% of the Jews in Italy during the war. Many of them had fled to Italy from Nazi-dominated countries.

About 1,000 guests attended this year’s gala, including Claudio Bisogniero, Italy’s ambassador to the U.S.; past honoree, Senator Jack Reed; former Congresswoman, Connie Morella; former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Edmund Giambastiani; former SIF honoree and retired Army veteran, Anthony Odierno; actress, Connie Stevens; Laura Bush’s chief of staff, Anita McBride; head of the USO, Elaine Rogers; and Café Milano’s Francesco Nuschese.

Tenor Michael Amante performed a medley of popular songs and classical arias while the national anthems of Italy and the U.S. were led by soprano Maria Fassio Pignati. As in past years, actor Joe Mantegna was the gala’s Master of Ceremonies.

The NELA Gala is the hallmark of the SIF's public affairs and fund-raising programs and highlights the foundation's commitment to educational excellence, leadership and the betterment of society. As the Order Sons of Italy in America’s philanthropic arm, the Sons of Italy Foundation has donated more than $120 million to charitable and cultural causes since 1959.

OSIA, popularly known as “the Sons of Italy,” is the oldest and largest organization for men and women of Italian heritage in the United States. Founded in 1905, its mission is to preserve Italian American culture, encourage the study of Italian and educational excellence among Italian Americans and help improve the lives of all Americans.