February 26, 1926 – December 7, 2022
A private funeral service was held at the Los Angeles National Cemetery for Giovanna Sofia Endo, who passed away peacefully at the age of 96 on Dec. 7 following a brief illness.
To those who were blessed to know her, she was larger than life. She had a keen sense of humor and could compliment and embarrass you at the same time. She would burst into a song without warning, then forget the words midway through it. She fiercely protected her family and would call out anyone who dared try to hurt them. This was Giovanna, a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and a steadfast friend.
Born on Feb. 26, 1926, in Brescia, Italy, about 53 miles from Milan, she was a young teen in 1939 when World War II began escalating in Europe. Her brother, Giacomo, was captured by the Germans and spent three years in a prison camp yet survived. When she was 18, Giovanna learned the good news that American soldiers were successfully pushing Hitler’s army out of Italy. Those soldiers were members of the U.S. Army’s predominantly Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Giovanna and a few of friends approached the soldiers, offering to do laundry in exchange for food.
On one occasion, while delivering newly washed and pressed uniforms to the Army base, Giovanna waited for someone to accept her delivery. The guard noticed the nametag and summoned Sgt. Endo to retrieve the clothes. When she saw him, she immediately thought he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. He looked at Giovanna and pulled out a picture that he had been carrying around ever since landing in Europe. It was of St. Mary, the Holy Mother. “It’s her,” he thought to himself. Neither had planned to fall in love at first sight, but when it happened, it changed their lives forever.
They dated for almost two years before Masami proposed to Giovanna, but Army officials discouraged the union. However, Masami was persistent, and his request was eventually granted. He married Giovanna in Pisa, Italy on September 30, 1946. As Army troops moved out of Europe, Giovanna was on a ship to America with baby Ellen. Daughter Barbara was born several months later in Port Townsend, Washington.
Raising two biracial children on military bases meant Giovanna had to endure racist remarks from Army wives who questioned her decision to marry a Japanese. At the time, 28 states prohibited interracial marriage. On the world stage, American troops were deployed to fight in the Korean War. While Masami served in Korea, Giovanna and the girls moved to an apartment in Denver, Colorado.
Masami’s 11 years in the service ended in 1952, and the family moved to Los Angeles where he and Giovanna worked as resident managers of the Edward Hotel in arguably worst section of town: Skid Row. Despite her fears, Giovanna relied on her innate ability to see the good in people. The hotel became a haven for Black men struggling to gain respect. Among them were chefs and bellmen who worked in luxurious hotels but couldn’t afford apartments and Beverly Hills houseboys with nowhere to go on days off. She also provided housing for men who were shunned by their own community for being gay.
Having difficulty pronouncing “Giovanna,” the tenants dubbed her “Jo Ann.” They loved and protected her and watched over her daughters. In the mid-1960s, the Endos bought a house in the Silverlake area. Giovanna went to work at Tridair, an airplane parts manufacturing company. Masami and Giovanna subsequently moved to a townhouse in Alhambra where Giovanna worked as an assisted-living attendant.
In 1996, after 50 years of marriage, the love of her life, Masami, passed away.
Although she was diagnosed with dementia in 2011, Giovanna never stopped smiling, singing, and reminding others that “life is beautiful.”
She is survived by a sister Gina Simpson, two daughters Ellen Endo Dizon (Jesse), Barbara Endo Uemura (Hisashi), six grandchildren Stephanie Dizon, Ai Uemura Noguchi (Hiro), Sachi Uemura Ueyama (Hiroyuki), Jess-Paul Dizon (Janet), Elena Dizon, and Joseph Dizon, and five great grandchildren Christian Batts, Logan Dizon, Heiwa Noguchi, Hakwa Noguchi, and Ao Sofia Ueyama. The service, supervised by Fukui Mortuary, was officiated by Rev. Clifford Ishigaki.