Ralph DiGia, lifelong war resister and pacifist, died Feb. 1 in New York City, days after breaking his hip in a fall. Ralph, 93, was a leading figure in the War Resisters League, one of the United States’ oldest anti-war groups, for more than two generations. He joined the organization shortly after the end of World War II and his release from federal prison, where he had served a term for refusing military service as a conscientious objector.
An associate of AJ Muste, Bayard Rustin, Dave Dellinger, Barbara Deming and other anti-war voices of his generation, Ralph held key posts over the years with both WRL and Liberation magazine. A statement on the WRL website says, “While Ralph was not a public speaker or a writer, he played a key a role within the radical pacifist movement, and was central to many of the major antiwar actions of the past six decades.”
He is survived by his wife, Karin DiGia, his children, and his two brothers. (WRL statement, Feb. 2)
A profile of Ralph DiGia in the New York Times of March 22, 2003 read:
Mr. DiGia grew up on the Upper West Side, the son of an immigrant barber. In 1927, when Mr. DiGia was 12, his father took him to a rally protesting the imminent execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, whose murder trial centered on their radical political beliefs.
“My first demonstration,” Mr. DiGia said, smiling.
In 1941, Mr. DiGia received his draft notice, but reported instead to the United States attorney’s office to announce that he was a conscientious objector. After being convicted of failure to report for induction in 1943, he was sent to a federal penitentiary in Danbury, Conn., where he helped lead a successful effort to integrate the prison dining hall.
Mr. DiGia served 28 months in prison and returned to New York, where he got a job with a small accounting firm and started volunteering at the War Resisters League. A decade later, in 1955, the league hired him to keep the books and he has been a part of the organization ever since…
Through the decades, he has participated in hundreds of demonstrations against American wars and policies. He vaguely recalled that the last of his many arrests was at the United Nations, but he vividly remembered the 30-day sentence he got for protesting the country’s civil defense drills in the mid-1950’s. He can talk about the FBI files (“Stuff like, ‘Ralph DiGia drove up in a Chevrolet and started passing out leaflets'”), as well as about the time the office was ransacked.
“It’s almost like being selfish,” he said finally. “It makes me feel good. It’s meaningful to me. Otherwise, what would I be doing? Supporting these terrible things?”
Among the many antiwar stickers adorning the office, there is one for the Mets. Ralph DiGia, pacifist, is also Ralph DiGia, baseball fan, who has learned to combine passions when attending Mets games at Shea Stadium: cheer for the home team, but do not stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“We sit, the others stand, and the game goes on,” he said.