In early 1943, my grandfather, Irving, made the decision to fight for our country in World War II. He had wanted to join about six months earlier, but waited for his friend Leo to turn 17 so they could do it together (incidentally, Leo remains his best friend to this day). In 1943, you had to be just 17 years old in order to join the military. So at 17 ½ years of age, Irving enlisted and was sent from his hometown in northwest Connecticut to Parris Island for basic training. From there, he was transferred to Dover, New Jersey, for advanced training and work at an ammunition depot.
It was in Dover, New Jersey, that he experienced the highlight of military life; the only happy memory he has of those days – being allowed out on liberty. During these brief treasured periods of freedom, he met and fell head over heels for Florence, the woman who would become the love of his life. The woman who was still just a girl at 15 years old, but would become his cherished wife of more than sixty years; who was Flossie, trusted friend to so many loved ones; who was Mom, to her four beautiful children; who would eventually become our beloved Mamie.
He met Florence for the first time with a group of friends, and had actually been set up on a blind date with her friend Lynn. But he knew that first time that she was the girl for him, so on his next liberty, he went directly to her house to tell her he wanted to see her, not her friend. They had a whirlwind courtship and knew they wanted to get married. As they were both underage, they had to write back and forth to their families to get the required permissions. They were married and started their lives together in New Jersey, while he was still in training to be shipped overseas.
In early 1945, with the 6th Marine Division, Irving was transferred to California, and then Guadalcanal for final training before being deployed. He left behind his pregnant wife, who delivered their first child, Beverly, on February 10, 1945. Irving was in Guadalcanal when his first child was born.
On April 1, 1945 (April Fool’s Day, he pointed out to me when telling me his story), he landed in Okinawa. On May 20th, while with a group of 6 other Marines in his unit, they were hit with shelling. All six of the other Marines were killed. It is only because someone passing by saw him move his eye that he wasn’t left for dead. Irving was pulled to safety and rushed to the base hospital. He had been hit in his left knee, right thigh, his right side, and his left arm and hand.
He spent several weeks at the base hospital before being transferred to the Guam advanced hospital, where he was able to recover. He healed and learned to move and walk on his own again. He learned that it is possible to walk and function with a hole in your leg. The hole was filled with Vaseline to protect the wound and allowed time to heal from the inside out.
When he recovered sufficiently, he was transferred to light duty service in Sing Tao, China. He guarded British oil tanks there, and performed daily tasks that kept him moving and helped him regain full use of his leg and his hand.
In March 1946, Irving was finally sent home. He was reunited with Florence, and for the first time, met his daughter, who was more than a year old. Irving and Florence settled in his small hometown in northwest Connecticut, where they had three more children, my Aunt Doreen, my dad, Chip, and my Aunt Elaine, eight grandchildren, and to date, seven great-grandchildren. We lost Mamie in March 2006, but together, Grandfather and Mamie created a loving and close-knit family, including not only their descendants, but extended family, and also friends. Anyone coming close to those two was drawn in by the love they radiated and treated like family.
Irving is a devoted father, grandfather and great-grandfather. We know and love him as the person he is today, not as the soldier who earned a purple heart for his heroic service to our country. But it is important to remember that soldier is still a part of him, and deserves honor and recognition. Happy Veterans Day, Grandfather. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for serving our country.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, I would also like to thank my father-in-law, Renny, for his honorable service to our country in Vietnam.
Finally, I would like to remember my Grandpa Carmine. He was an Army Captain, serving in New Orleans during World War II. He taught soldiers the art of loading cargo ships carrying supplies overseas. I have never heard him tell his story, as he died when I was two years old. But I have heard stories about his honorable service, not the least entertaining of which involves my dear Gram and her fellow military wives getting together to spy on their husbands.