I consider my father my best friend. He has always been there and done the best that he could for me. It was no easy relationship to cultivate. It has taken me 47 years to develop this relationship with him, after all, I had to grow and mature from infancy to adulthood. Through those stages I depended upon him, worshiped him, despised him, hurt him, got to know him as an adult, loved him, and once again depended upon him.
Throughout my childhood he never spoke of his life. I did not even realize that he was Italian until one day when I was old enough to actually pay attention to what the grown ups in my life were doing I over heard a telephone conversation he was having with his mother. I was sitting in the living room, listening to him speak and I noticed that what he was saying sounded like gibberish. It was, of course, Italian.
When my father came over there was extreme prejudice against Italians. He explained to me that when he was in High School he was provoked into fistfights almost everyday by boys who would call him disparaging names such as “grease ball” and “WOP”. I asked him what a WOP was. He patiently explained that it is an acronym that stands for WithOut Papers. When many immigrants came over, they did not have any papers to properly identify themselves. He further explained that his father, my Grandpa George, had worked in the United States for years, establishing himself and obtaining papers to bring his family over legally. My father was no WOP.
So he shielded his children from this legacy and as far as I knew we were just Americans. What a terrible loss to all Americans to have to deliberately disassociate yourself from your heritage. Not to be able to even tell your children where you lived when you were seven was extremely cruel. After all of these years of developing this relationship with my father he feels that he can open up to me. Perhaps he realizes that the world has changed and in his sunset years, now it is time to tell his story. I know that my children and their children would suffer a great injustice if this story of un-daunting courage and faith in the American dream were lost.
As I spoke with my father I began to understand how hard it is for him to open up, to be so vulnerable is not easy. In his shyness, he laughs much as he describes the hardships he endured and some how passes them off as commonplace, perhaps they were. Not only was this man an immigrant to this country he volunteered in the army and fought bravely and proudly in World War II. These World War II Vets are a stoic lot and he never told me his entire story, but I have gleamed an insight to his heroism and will share it at the proper time.
When I first started interviewing my father I asked him if he felt that he and his comrades were heroes. In his typical fashion he down played his heroism and said
“I don’t think it was any stuff like that… you did your job and you hoped that you didn’t get into very tight tights and one day followed another, that kind of thing…“
I pushed him a little further and he answered,
“You know Mike not all of us were heroes, we just did our part and came home.”