During World War II, many families had multiple sons serving. My family was no exception. My father is the youngest of thirteen children, born to Italian immigrants who came through Ellis Island in 1905 with their first three children in tow. They settled in the coal-mining region of North-central Pennsylvania before eventually relocating to the North shore of Long Island in 1929. By that point, all the children had arrived...my father was two years old. On December 7, 1941, my father was about two months shy of his 15th birthday. His eight older brothers, however, ranged in age from 21 to 40. When war was declared and the call for soldiers came, five of them answered.
My Uncle John, the oldest to enlist at 34, worked for a construction company and enlisted in the Navy. His skills were put to good use in the Sea-Bees where he quickly attained the rank of Chief Petty Officer. The story goes that, when he was preparing the beachheads in the opening hours of the D-Day invasions, he got his helmet shot off and picked up the nearest one he could find. Unknown to him, it was an officer's. When another officer told him he needed to find another helmet, Uncle Johnny, I am told, politely refused and suggested if it was so important, that the officer find one for him. My family stayed with Uncle John at his house in Montauk Point a couple of times when I was young. Eventually, he retired to Vero Beach, Florida, where he lived to 95, passing away quietly in 2002.
The next in line was my Uncle Sammy, my Godfather. Uncle Sam was 31 when he was drafted into the Army during the first wave of the draft in 1940. He was discharged in 1941 after serving his year, but was recalled in 1942. Uncle Sammy was an MP and stationed in Iran where he served as his unit's cook. Uncle Sammy always had a kidding, wisecracking side to his nature that we all loved. I'm sure he developed that in order to defend against the inevitable tormenting cooks in the military receive. I remember many Saturday afternoons over at his house just visiting, as we would often do. We also had a few family reunions there in the 70's - that was a crowd! Uncle Sammy passed away in 1982 of leukemia. It was tough to see someone so vibrant get sick like that and it especially hurt that I was not able to donate platelets because I was only 16. Ever since I turned 17, I have been donating blood as often as I can in his memory, and made my first aphaeresis donation this year.
My Uncle Albert, nicknamed Shadow, was 27 at the time the war started. He was in the coast artillery serving in New Guinea. According to my Dad, when he wasn't manning the guns, he was one of his unit's resident mechanics, fixing trucks and jeeps. At some point later in the war, he had a brief reunion with Uncle John, possibly in Borneo, as that was a staging area for the proposed invasion of Japan. I have seen a few pictures of Uncle Albert but, unfortunately, I know the least about him because we never met. He passed away in 1950 at just 36 from complications due to malaria. I did, however, grow up knowing his daughter and her family, who were always at every family event. When we went down to Long Island a few months ago for another uncle's birthday, she was there with her husband. Though it had been years since we'd seen each other, it was as if no time had passed.
Uncle Roy was about 25 in 1941. He served in the Air Transport Command and was stationed in England and Scotland. He was a flight engineer and acted as gunner on a few bombing raids. His only son was several years older than my sister and me, so by the time we would visit him and Aunt Selma, the only other "kid" in the house was their mini-schnauzer Suki. Uncle Roy was always the most quiet of my uncles - it was a dignified sort of quiet. One very vivid memory I have was at my High School's Homecoming parade and game in 1984, the year after I graduated. The class of 1934 was honored on its 50th anniversary, and Uncle Roy attended. When the honorees, then approaching 70, were called up to be recognized during the half-time festivities, Uncle Roy stood out. He was tall and dignified, sharply dressed, without a cane, or even a limp - perfect military bearing! Uncle Roy lived to 83 years of age and passed away in 1999.
The last of my uncles to serve was Uncle Tony, born in 1920, who was in the 82nd Airborne. The story with him was that when his unit parachuted into France one or two days after the D-Day invasion started, he was one of the lucky ones who landed on the right side of a hill. On the wrong side was a Nazi machine gun nest. His unit also helped in the rescue at the Battle of the Bulge, along with Patton's tanks and other infantry divisions. Uncle Tony was seven years older than my dad was, and as such, had to deal with a younger brother tagging along all the time. His nickname for my dad was "Gink." When one of his friends finally asked him what that meant, he said, "The little sonofabitch is following me again!" Uncle Tony carried on the large family tradition and had nine kids - bringing my total first cousin count to 31 on my dad's side. After being sick for some time, Uncle Tony passed away early last year at 85.
My dad has an article hanging in his apartment...a clipping actually...from the local paper, the Long Islander (founded by poet Walt Whitman). The story is about how my grandmother joined the ranks of other local women with multiple sons serving in the armed forces. At the end, it mentioned her youngest son, Frank Jr. who planned to enlist in the Army Air Corps as a pilot cadet when he was old enough. That day never officially came. Because he had five brothers already serving, he wasn't allowed to leave High School early. So, even though he was sworn in earlier in 1945, he actually reported for duty six days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
By that time, the Air Corps didn't need any new pilots, so they said they he could go home or pick some other field. Many of his friends in the same situation chose to go home, only to wind up back five years later for Korea. Dad, however, stayed and went to radar school. He remained in the Air Force (switchover in 1947) until 1948, leaving as a Corporal (Airman First Class). So, technically, that makes it six brothers who served during World War II. Dad says he really didn't serve in the war because he doesn't feel his time compares to his brothers' or others who were there during the real hostilities. But, the state of emergency was in effect for a few years after the war and anything could have happened. So, I give him credit for the time even if he doesn't feel it's deserved. Dad is still going strong at 80. In 1976, he and I made plans to celebrate the Tri-centennial together. I'll be 110 and he'll be 149.
Other members of my family also served.
My Uncle Jack was married to my father's next older sister, Catherine, and served in Korea. It was his 80th birthday we just celebrated recently on Long Island. Most of my Saturday evenings during the '70s were spent at their house after church, watching TV or just talking and hearing stories. Christmas and New Years was usually at their house - informal - open house - but always tons of great food. It was the house my father grew up in and the walls were covered in pictures and full of memories and stories.
My father-in-law, Wayne, is 79 and graduated High School at 16 in 1944. He trained as a pilot in P-51s toward the end of the war and was recalled toward the end of the Korean war to train in F-86s. Wayne was born in Kansas and eventually settled with his family in Southern California. He always has a lot of great stores about someplace or other he's visited or worked during his years in civil engineering.
Today, I thought about all of them, Uncles John, Sam, Albert, Roy, Tony and my father, Frank, Uncle Jack and Wayne. I am very grateful they all came home safely. Even though not all of them saw actual combat, I can't ever forget the sacrifices they were willing to make for the rest of us. I am writing this because it's important for stories like theirs to be told and retold. These men are more than just veterans from a long-ago war. They are my family and I honor and thank them for what they did.
- New England, United States
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