Today, I’m posting a piece I wrote for Veterans’ Day in 2006. Because the piece touched a lot of people, I thought it worth publishing it again. Here it is.
They were three Italian brothers. With World War II in play, they were expected to serve their country, but the country they would serve was not the country whose language they learned at birth. Sons of Italian immigrants who settled in Ohio, they were Americans.
The brothers came from humble stock. At the turn of the 20th century, their parents left Petterano Sul Gizio, a village in the mountainous region of Abruzzo, east of Rome. They settled in Steubenville, Ohio, a small river town once infamous for prostitution, gambling and graft, with a large steel mill that produced the income that made possible all the nefarious activity.
The steel mill was a magnet for immigrants, and Steubenville had immigrants of all types.
The three brothers learned English in grade school. Italian was spoken at home. Their parents never got beyond broken English. Their father, my grandfather, opened a saloon just a few blocks from their home. With Prohibition, he had to convert the saloon to a restaurant, but he continued to serve wine in coffee cups as a way of hiding it. Try telling an old time Italian you can’t drink wine.
Their mother stayed at home to raise the three boys and two daughters. In the days of the Depression, there was often a guest at the dinner table, someone even less well off. The upstairs of the saloon was sometimes rented to workers.
In mid-1942, the eldest of the three brothers, my father—being a good Italian son, I called him Pop—was inducted into the Army Air Corps. Assigned to a C-47 transport squadron, he worked in operations and traveled across North Africa and up the Italian boot.
A prolific writer, Pop always kept the family informed of how he was doing. He and his squadron mates knew how to scrounge, an integral part of being a GI. Tile blocks from a demolished factory would serve as a floor in his tent, and a five-gallon drum with pipes and fittings from a wrecked airplane became a makeshift stove.
Uncle Josie was a mechanic, assigned to a P-38 fighter squadron in the Pacific and, at one point, was stationed in Calcutta. He convinced a squadron pilot to let him paint the name of his girl friend (and later his wife) on one of the planes. My Aunt Edie’s name adorned the nose of a P-38.
The middle brother, Uncle Guy, served with an Army engineer division. He was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge and taken prisoner. Captive for 112 days with about 60 other Americans, he lost over 60 pounds. Because they were fleeing the Allies, his captors kept everyone on the move. They traveled about 800 miles before being liberated.
When the war ended, Pop traveled to France and found Uncle Guy, who was recuperating in a hospital. The press release and photograph made it back home. Pop looked handsome in his Eisenhower jacket. Uncle Guy was bald (a close shave was the only cure for lice) and looked relieved to be free.
When they returned home, the three brothers melded back to the civilian world. Pop started off as an accountant but soon became an insurance agent and real estate broker. Uncle Josie went to work at the nearby titanium mill, and Uncle Guy joined the Post Office. They were all good citizens, family men and church-goers.
Uncle Guy was the first to die in 1999, followed by Pop in 2001. Uncle Josie died last August. With my two aunts having passed in 1997 and 2000, Uncle Josie’s death marked the end of a generation for my father’s family.
The significance of what these men did was not the subject of special military honors. They were just three of the millions of GIs who served in a war that took place on the other side of the word. Others gave much more. Thomas and Aletta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, lost five sons when the USS Juneau was sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal. In memory of the five sailors, two Navy destroyers have carried the name, USS The Sullivans.
They may not have made headlines, but Pop and his brothers did what was expected of them, and did so without any complaint, as did so many others. There is a certain beauty in quietly doing your job and doing it well. They may have been just three humble Italian boys, but I like to think of them, in the words of Tom Brokaw, as part of “America’s greatest generation.”
Take five minutes out of your day today to think about those who never returned home. May God’s peace be upon them.
Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
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