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Sons of Italy® Joins President Bush at White House Columbus Day Signing

Press Contact: Diane E. Crespy, (202) 547-2900 dcrespy@osia.org

Washington – Representatives of the Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA), the world's largest and longest-established organization of American men and women of Italian heritage, joined President Bush and Mrs. Bush Monday for the signing of a proclamation declaring October 8 Columbus Day in the United States.

The signing of the proclamation comes in the wake of the terrorist attacks that left thousands dead, including many Italian-American police and fire workers in New York City. President Bush made special mention of the rescue workers and the victims, including fallen New York Fire Chief Peter Ganci, whose family attended the signing ceremony.

"Italian-Americans were among the many public servants last month who gave extraordinary service in an hour of dire emergency," the President said, acknowledging Arlington (Va.) Fire Department Battalion Chief Jim Bonzano and New York City Police and Fire Department representatives Joe Esposito and Chief Dan Nigro.

Joined at the podium by OSIA National President Robert A. Messa, President Bush remarked, "This Columbus Day should be one of deep pride for all Americans – all Americans – especially those [of] Italian descent. From the very beginning of our country, the sons and daughters of Italy have brought honor to themselves and have enriched our national life." [See http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011008-8.html for full text of the President's remarks.]

Other distinguished attendees at the ceremony included Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Italian Ambassador Ferdinando Salleo, Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Connie Morella (R-Md.), and leaders of other Italian-American organizations.

Columbus Day, the official holiday of OSIA, has been steeped in controversy over the years, with American Indian groups protesting the nationally recognized holiday. Americans of Italian descent view the holiday as an opportunity to celebrate Italian-American culture and the countless positive contributions by people of Italian heritage to the world, as well as the accomplishments of the Italian explorer.

The Order Sons of Italy in America® has more than 700 chapters and more than 575,000 members in all 50 states, and two U.S. territories. OSIA members have been dedicated to providing educational opportunities, improving the lives of all Americans, and preserving the Italian heritage since the organization's founding in 1905. For more information, contact OSIA at (202) 547-2900, nationaloffice@osia.org, or on the Internet at www.osia.org.