[This is dedicated to all the
brave sons of Newark past and present, who answered the country's
call to service. May their courage, bravery, and personal sacrifices
serve as a vivid reminder that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.]
"Hey Hon, pick up the phone, it's your baby brother!"
Since I don't have any brothers, it could be nobody else but my
good friend and fellow inventor Wayne……
"Hey bud, what's up?" sez I.
"Guess where I am?"
"You've been arrested in a bar fight in rural Montana, and
now I have to bail you out…..right?"
"No I'm in DC."
"Oh, so you got arrested for mooning some Kerry supporters.
I'll take the Metroliner down later, after dinner."
"I just said 'thanks' to your dad and mine."
"You did what?"
"I'm at the WWII memorial, just standing here…….
(Long silence with sniffles)
"Is it as beautiful as they say?"
"You have got to get down here. It is incredible."
I have never met anyone who endured WWII that bragged about the
experience. All my years growing up in Newark, none of my family
ever spoke openly about it. They may have talked among themselves,
but clammed up quick if kids or wives approached. As children caught
with their hands in the cookie jar, they always had that hollow
look on their faces if they realized they might be overheard.
Like Mel Gibson in the movie, The Patriot, I came to appreciate
the demons and beasts that were unleashed in that horrible episode
of the early 1940s. Men who were there did not need to be reminded
how they were transformed into killing machines. I now believe they
feared that as much as being killed.
Wayne's father landed on D-Day, fighting his way across Europe.
Dad was at Guadalcanal, and every other South Pacific island hellhole.
He was severely wounded at Tinian--recuperating in naval hospitals,
and later, a New Jersey seaside hotel; cramped in bulky arm and
leg casts for 18 months.
We would call them anxiety attacks today, but I remember snippets
of flashback attacks Dad endured after the war-severe shortness
of breath, nightmares, and shivering bouts of recurrent malaria
he had contracted while on the islands.
I suppose I would have had them too if my left arm and leg were
compound fractured and my body was peppered with shrapnel, courtesy
of a Japanese 500 pound aerial bomb that blew him through 7 decks
of his ship. That arm and leg were literally wired back together.
His good friend aboard ship, later to become his best man, wrapped
him in life jackets and tossed him out of the gaping hole in the
sinking ship's burning engine room……saving his life.
For 14 hours he lay in shark infested waters, covered in fuel oil,
barely conscious. From there he began a grueling recovery.
Doc Bellucci would come over from his office on Mt. Prospect Avenue
whenever Dad was suffering and help him through. I remember many
Saturday morning visits to the Veteran's building in downtown Newark
for Dad to receive some heat treatments and therapy, followed by
the doctor giving him a big jar of muscle ointment for me to rub
him down with several times a week. I used to knead his muscles
like dough, watching his skin turn cherry red from that ointment,
but it helped quite a bit. My young forearms became strong, and
hard from all that massaging. To this day, I have a steel grip,
and can give your back, arms and legs a rubdown you'll never forget.
Ask my wife.
Through all this, he never shared his war memories, usually just
tossing out somewhat benign statements every now and then; but no
windows or poignant moments where he let down his guard. There was
a steel door I could not get around. Mom urged me not to try and
open it. Even she knew little of his pain. He would tell me when
he was ready.
That door opened slightly during the height of the Vietnam War.
I remember it vividly. The infamous lottery draft call was coming
up for those of us eligible. Mom was beside herself. We were sitting
in the backyard, around dusk one evening. Mom was crying and Dad
just looked at her, and as if I was not there, said…….
"Don't worry. I'll break both his legs if he gets drafted.
No son of mine is going to be wasted on a war that our own leaders
don't support. That's no way for good boys to die alone and unsupported
in some &%$#$* jungle. His uncles and I have been there and
we know what that kind of war is like. If he is going to fight someone
in defense of this country, he is going to be totally supported
and come home to a parade….like I did."
With that he got up and limped inside. I was stunned. Dad never
went back on his word. My legs started to hurt. Fortunately, just
a few days later, it was the only lottery I ever won with a very
high draft number.
One hot summer afternoon, in his seventieth year, he opened the
door. He and I were alone having a cold soda in the kitchen of his
No. 5th Street house. Just a few days before, he was the victim
of a freak accident. While he was sitting in the kitchen, lightning
had hit the house, the bathroom vent pipe as a matter of fact. That
vent pipe ran through a wall in the kitchen not more than 5 feet
from where he had been sitting. The force of the stroke lifted him
off the chair and deposited him on the floor of the dining room.
He was shaken, but not hurt, according to his doctor.
In relating the tale to me, he used an example of what the thunderous
crash sounded like….
"It was exactly the same sound as the 5 inch deck guns aboard
For a moment, his choking, tearful words stopped. Looking hollow
faced, he appeared as if he could smell the smoke from the guns-almost
wrinkling his nose.
"It was that sudden and sharp a report. We had a Greek fellow
on aboard ship who could hit anything. He'd wait for the waves to
rock the ship and on the upstroke of the wave he would fire that
5-inch all-purpose gun mount and be dead on target. I can still
see him stepping down on that firing button. Man he was good. After
an island landing they would dispatch our ship along the coast and
up rivers to take out enemy positions and things like factories
"You can do a lot of damage with a 5-inch shell. Sometimes
I would load the gunpowder bags in or ram the shell home. We also
used the rounds during burials at sea. That is something I never
"I wasn't afraid during the fighting. It's too busy and so
*&$$%#$ noisy you don't think. You just curse at the enemy and
shoot at him. We used rifles, handguns, portable machine guns, whatever
we had including the big guns. I seen guys throw small caliber ammunition
in frustration at nearby flying airplanes. You just want to kill
them any way you can. With all the bomb explosions and large gun
concussions, many of us wet our pants or worse during battles. No
one made fun of anyone."
"But the burials", he sobbed, "That's what I cannot
forget. You had to put your dead buddies into canvas sheets and
sew them in with a couple of 5-inch projectiles between their legs
to make them sink. Then everyone attended a burial ceremony off
the stern, and you had to lift their bodies up with a board and
commit them to the deep. The sound those canvas sheets made when
they slid down that board. That was worse than any fight I ever
been in. Even worse than Guadalcanal or those island landings at
Dad broke down in tears and so did I, but the door was not fully
"That beautiful ruby ring I have. I got that ruby off a battlefield
in the Solomon islands. Took it off a dead Jap lieutenant's hand.
Those bastards fought like hell, but we were meaner that day. Always
did like fighting with the Marines. They never gave up. Uncle Nick
was a marine, you remember? He and his flamethrower saw much action
at Iwo Jima and Saipan. He is haunted too by the smell of that napalm
he sprayed. We all are haunted by something."
"I couldn't even go to the bathroom without being scared.
Ever try and squat down and relieve yourself behind some bushes
with a .45 in each hand? The enemy was everywhere."
On it went for several hours. Some I had heard just bits of before
and much I did not. Stories of men blown out of their shoes, friends
there one minute and swept away in horrific nearby explosions the
next; where mere inches meant the difference between life and death.
Men who started a sentence…… never completing it. Tales
of men losing fingers, ears, testicles, and hands to enemy fire.
Recounts of island invasions where Dad was landing troops in the
small crafts and firing the dual 50 caliber machine guns, raking
the island and trees so the marines could get ashore. Jap soldiers
being shot out of many palm trees from the force of the big 50s.
Anything that looked like it might move was shredded with the big
armor piercing bullets.
Huge landing craft ships beaching themselves on the body littered
shore, their thick steel doors opening, vomiting men, jeeps, tanks,
and live fire from every piece of fighting equipment inside. Everywhere,
men were dying, fighting with animal ferocity. The blood red color
of the beautiful, blue island, water was another thing that haunted
Then the quiet came after a battle, when you looked around, and
cried for friends and poor bastards you didn't even know. There
were no heroes or braggers afterwards. The real heroes did not come
home. Medals meant nothing.
Five years later Dad and his ghosts were laid to rest.
Just like my buddy Wayne, I cried when I saw the memorial last
weekend, and I am crying now as I write this.
It's a memorial for all of us, bought and paid for.
The big tears came when I saw the name of the place where Dad
was wounded, carved in stone as one of the major battles of the
Pacific theater. I walked away from my wife and friends at this
point and let the emotion out.
Leaving, I remembered something very eerie Dad had told me. He
was wounded January 3rd, 1944. I was born January 3rd, 1949.
When I got home from Washington I called Wayne, and told him our
dads were both all right.
I wish they could have seen how much we appreciate what they did.
And Thank You to any vets out there who read this. Many of us
care…. very, very much.