Sunday, July 29, 2012

War Is Hell

My grandfather wrote this poem in a foxhole in France during WWII. A framed copy of it hangs proudly in Grammy's dining room:

War Is Hell
By Francis Stevens Joseph O'Connell

War is the thing no one can explain
War is a bad dream no one can explain
War is a lot of hardship that men go through
And women and children have to go through it too
It's nights in a foxhole that are wet and cold and nasty and dark too
It's days sweating and starving and sleepy too
It's days when the sun is out and days when it's not
It's days when it's raining and you're wet through and through
And you go to bed when night comes and you're still wet too
It's up early in the morning and going all day too
Through the mud and more mud and then some too
And then you see the enemy and things start
And then you hit the dirt and start to crawl
To get into position to give them your all
The bullets will whiz by you and you start to sweat and swear
The shells will whiz by overhead and let me tell you
You'll swear the world is coming to an end
And after the battle is over and everything is quiet
You pray to God and thank him that you're alive and breathing again
And then you do the same thing all over again
Day in and day out until you pray it will soon end
And after it's all over and you say to yourself
I wonder if the guy who started it ever knew what the word war means
I doubt he ever knew

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tully Meets Wild Irishman From Brockton

On Thursday at Grammy's house, I focused on gathering any little bits and pieces of our family history that I may have missed over the past 2 months. She showed me her old war scrapbook, filled with articles about my grandfather and his division, and I had my mom dictate the famous (in my family at least) Andrew Tully article to me:

Tully Meets Wild Irishman From Brockton
By Andrew Tully, Boston Traveler Staff Correspondent

A RIFLE OUTPOST ON THE EDGE OF NO MAN'S LAND, Feb. 12—I don't know what the hell a timid civilian like me is doing here!

With a wild Irishman from Brockton named O'Connell and a couple of other infantrymen, I am in an attic room of a partially demolished house in Saarlautern, Germany, looking through a shell hole in the wall at the German lines, only 800 yards away. I don't like it.

Outside is a partially flooded meadow as flat and unprotected as the top of a kitchen table. At the far edge of the meadow is the Saar River, which at this point is a little more than an oversized brook. And fronting on the far bank of the pipsqueak of a river is the part of the city of Saarlautern still held by the Germans.

We can see an occasional Jerry puttering about on some military odd job across that wide open space. Staff Sergeant Francis Stevens Joseph O'Connell of 124 Lawrence Street, Brockton, just told me: "Don't think he can't see you". Good old Francis Stevens Joseph.

The staccato rattle of machine-gun fire can be heard plainly off to our left, where some of our men are harassing a couple of Kraut outposts. Occasionally, the Jerries return the fire from their Siegfried line forts which line the the far bank of the river, and almost all afternoon enemy artillery has been drooping shells in and around our positions on this west bank. The noise is not deafening, but there are a few moments when there is not a shell exploding somewhere.

Tall Chimney
The view across the field is one of an assortment of dwellings and manufacturing buildings clustered at the foot of the high ridge. Standing out in the cluster is a tall powerhouse chimney and on guard before and between the buildings are the ponderous forts of the Siegfried line. Our 105 howitzers have been banging away and now you can't see the puffs of dirty gray smoke practically within spitting distance where the shells have scored hits on the Jerry real estate. Two more shells bounce off the ridge behind the town and we fancy we can hear the thud of the shells falling.

We are, of course, well within both rifle and machine gun range and Lt. Phil Stanchfield of Milo, ME., cautions us to stay away from the windows on the left. "Look out the shell hole," he counsels, "Jerry hasn't put a bullet through that place yet."

O'Connell is studying the tall chimney with a look of dissatisfaction. "You can't tell me there ain't something in that chimney," he says. "Betcha they got an observation post there where they can see as far as Paris." His pals are in sober agreement. "I should like to see a beautiful 105 cut that chimney in half , right in half," says Staunchfield as he licks his chops in contemplating such a beautiful thing.

"What he needs is an all-Irish gun crew to do that job," says O'Connell. "Now take my squad—"

Colorful Character
I'll take O'Connell's squad any day. Every outfit has its colorful character and in this one O'Connell just about fills the bill.  The Brockton boy is leader of a squad of 12 men, all of them of Irish descent. Since the outfit went into the line last October this squad has killed an estimated 300 Germans! All of them—Rourke and O'Ryan and Duffy and Reynolds—are top fighting men. But O'Connell has that wonderful intangible thing called color, which made Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean and Shipwreck Kelly stand out in the sports picture.

Sgt. O'Connell was a molder of iron, steel, brass and copper back in civilian life. He carries a genuine shamrock and he says, "There are two kinds of people in the world—the Irish and those who wish to hell they were Irish".

Short But Sweet
You can't pin the Brockton boy down on how many Jerries he's killed but his pals say "about 40". Lt. Stanchfield, who does not go out on limbs, says that figure is not extravagant. Then he tells us about the time recently when O'Connell and his crew were out looking for trouble and picked up a couple of stray Germans. "They told the boys they'd just come from around the bend," Staunchfield recalls, "So, O'Connell says 'to hell with going to bed,' and the Irish headed around the bend".

Around the bend they found two tanks and perhaps 20 infantrymen. A few bazooka shots sent the tanks speeding into retreat but the infantrymen elected to fight. The Irish obliged. When it was over, there were 16 dead Krauts on the white snow and the other four men had fled.

The Irish squad takes all this excitement calmly. Being men of simple tastes who want of the world only a little bodily comfort. When Stanchfield ushered me into O'Connell's grinning presence today the Brockton bushwhacker was lying on one of two beds in one of the houses four bedrooms, his stockinged feet resting on a cerise quilt and a radio giving forth swing on the bedside table. He's a solidly built citizen with short but not clipped brown hair and seems perpetually abashed.

A Little Mistake
The rest of the squad was having around smoking and talking with the exception of one man, who was upstairs keeping watch. "We don't work too hard," O'Connell told me. "Makes you old before your time". Frankly, the thing I'm interested in today more than Francis Stevens Joseph O'Connell is GROWING OLD. Back at the company command post, Stanchfield has offered to have O'Connell brought to me there but I said I'd go to him. Everybody makes mistakes, I suppose. Anyway, the brief trip to O'Connell's bailiwick had me on the ropes.

You can't go to this output in a jeep because you draw fire. So, we had to walk and as we started out, one of the boys in the CP gave me an owlish look and told me "Hope to see you again." You know that tone of voice.

We had to walk only a few blocks but the last part of it brought us onto a street within plain view of Jerry across the river. We had to hug the buildings all the way down the street for a distance of perhaps two blocks to get to the outpost. I could see some Germans across that field on the other side of the river and if they can't see me, Hitler is fighting this war with a fine bunch of myopic militarists. I scuttled along that sidewalk with my ribs scraping against solid brick and thought to myself, "When you are going to get that job selling vacuum cleaners?"

But you don't get to meet guys like Francis Stevens Joseph O'Connell selling vacuum cleaners.


UPDATE: A few months after posting this, I received a nice note from Andrew Tully's son Mark, that read: "Just a quick note to let you know I ran across your post with my father's piece on your grandfather from the Boston Traveler.  It would warm his heart to have known that your family treasured his piece and passed it along.  He really knew how to tell stories about the guys in Yankee Division."

Amazing, right? You have to love technology sometimes...

Andrew Tully, photo courtesy of his son Mark

Francis Stevens Joseph O'Connell

Frank's discharge papers

More discharge papers

Letter from President Harry Truman

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Final Transcript

Off to Grammy's today to go over the final transcript of our family history that I sent to her in the mail the other day. Once she's cleared it for mistakes and gives her Grammy stamp of approval, I'll put together the final version in book format, complete with pictures.

Happy Thursday! (I know it's not Tuesday, but at least it's another T day, right?)

Monday, July 23, 2012

D'Amarino Family Recipes

So, with an Italian grandmother you'd expect a plethora of amazing recipes from the old country, right? Well...unfortunately not so much in my case. While I've finally mastered making Grammy's lasagna, that's the only real "Italian" recipe of hers that I have. When I asked her if she had her mother's recipes written down anywhere, I was sad to find out that there wasn't a secret handwritten family recipe book in existence anywhere. Plus, with an Irish husband, she ended up cooking more meat and potatoes than pizza and pasta. Bummer.

What we do have however, is a church cookbook that was made years and years ago with recipes collected from the parish members, a number of whom were from my extended family.

So, in case you don't have an Italian grandmother of your own, I thought I'd share a few D'Amarino family recipes. Mangia!

Fettucine Alfredo with Homemade Noodles
Recipe from Mrs. Helen O'Connell

Basic Noodle Dough:
1 and 1/2 c. sifted flour
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp.water

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a little well in the center and drop in the slightly beaten eggs. Work with fingers to make a very stiff paste. If it is too moist, add more flour. Roll into 2 balls. On a floured board, roll very thin with a rolling pin. Turn dough often, flour board occasionally. Roll dough tightly in a long roll and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick. Separate the slices and leave out to dry 1 hour. Makes about 8 oz. Can be frozen in a plastic bag for use later.

1/4 cup sweet butter, cut into pieces
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. pepper

Add the noodles to a large kettle of boiling water with 1 tablespoon of salt. Cook uncovered until tender, 7-8 minutes. Drain well, then place in a hot serving dish. Add the butter, cheese and pepper. Toss quickly and thoroughly. Cheese should melt into a creamy sauce that coats the noodles. Makes 4 servings.

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms "Funghi Ripiene"
Recipe from Mrs. Angie Davis (Grammy's sister) 

1 lb. large fresh mushrooms
2/3 c. bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/3 c. olive oil

Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth and remove the stems. Place the mushrooms, top side down, in a shallow buttered baking dish . Mix together the bread crumbs, salt, pepper, cheese and oregano. Fill the mushroom tops with this mixture. Sprinkle the oil over it all. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. 

Basil, parsley or garlic could be used as a variation singly, or in addition to the oregano, depending on the individual taste.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Grandmother's Wedding Dress

A few weeks ago when we were talking about her wedding, Grammy mentioned to me that my mother has her wedding dress down on the Cape. You'd better believe that when I was home last weekend, I made sure to have my mom take it out so I could see it. You'd also better believe that although it was my only assignment for the weekend, I somehow managed to forget to photograph it (I think my 3 trips to Par-Tee Freeze, my aunt and uncles ice cream shop, must have given me a weekend-long brain freeze).

Luckily, my brother Sean takes beautiful photographs so I asked him to snap a few shots for me. Here are the absolutely stunning images that he sent to me yesterday:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Frank's Health Worsens and Helen Goes To Work

As Frank's illness progressed, he wasn't able to work as much, so Helen took a job at Commonwealth Shoe Factory in Whitman to provide for the family. She worked full-time at this factory for 5 years, first taking the bus to work, and then riding in with acquaintances from the factory (the O'Connell family did have a car, but Helen was never interested in driving).

The top portion of the shoe would come down the assembly line on a rack according to size. The edges of the shoe were already stitched, and Helen's job was to add the glue so the sole could be attached.

Soon though, Commonwealth began to import the upper part of the shoe from Spain and less work needed to be done in the factory. There was talk between the workers who said that more work was available at E.T. Wright, another shoe company located in Rockland. Helen went to work there, and rode in with a co-worker named Pete Green, a nice Polish man. She worked here for many years, until 1981.

Meanwhile, Frank's health was deteriorating. Helen remembers that while making him breakfast one morning, he looked up at her and tried to say something with garbled speech. He suffered from a stroke and was admitted to the hospital.

After this, one thing after another went wrong with his health. He began having a lot of trouble with his leg, the one that was shot at during the war, and they performed a bypass where they replaced an artery in the bad leg with one from his good leg. Shortly after, his good leg started to fail, as did the rest of his body. He passed away in the intensive care unit of the West Roxbury VA Hospital on August 22, 1981, 25 years to the date that his mother Isabelle had died.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cocoa the Monkey

Frank's father Joseph had a sister named Nora who lived next door. Nora was married to a man named Jerry Mak and the couple had 6 children: 3 sons, of all whom served in the army, and 3 daughters. Nora and Jerry's daughter, Betty Mak, married a sailor named Eddie Chobit, a navy man who served in the Pacific during the war. 

Eddie was stationed in San Diego, and before coming home on leave one time, he and a couple of friends took a day trip to Mexico. Once there, Eddie met a man who was selling monkeys and he decided to buy one for his son's upcoming 8th birthday. He brought Cocoa the monkey back home to Brockton with him, and everyone absolutely loved the little monkey—at least at first they did.

Pretty soon, Cocoa, who loved climbing up the curtains and snapping off all the leaves on the houseplants, wore out his welcome and was in need of a new home. Frank's sister Marie would often visit next door with Betty, and one day, Betty mentioned to her that they were looking to get rid of the monkey. Marie went home and told this to Joseph, to which he replied, "I'll take it!", and just like that, Cocoa came to live with the O'Connell's.

Joseph loved that little monkey. They'd take him out of his cage and Cocoa would jump right up on Joseph's head, and proceed to groom him, looking into his ears, and going through his hair, strand by strand.

One day, when Joseph was visiting with his daughter Maddie, Cocoa got loose and climbed up on the big, black railroad bridge next to her house. He was up there, swinging away on the girders for hours and hours, ignoring everyone's attempts to get him down. Finally, a crowd amassed, and the press showed up. The story in the Brockton Enterprise:

"When Cocoa, two-year old Mexican monkey owned by former Brocktonian Joseph V. O'Connell, 51 Jackson Avenue, Fitchburg, visited his one-time home on Curve Street Sunday afternoon, he took it in mind to do a little exploring. And the result was that for nearly an hour residents of the neighborhood were in a dither as Cocoa cavorted on the railroad footbridge at Union Street, dangling from the girders until he was finally chased home be neighbors and coaxed back into his cage by his owner. Shown with him on the bridge are: Warren A. Raynard, 25 of 638 Montello Street; Mr. O'Connell, Robert E Raynard, 16, of 638 Montello Street; Edward F. O'Connell, Jr. 17, of 589 Montello street, all of whom assisted in the chase. O'Connell was visiting his son-in-law and daughter, Mr and Mrs. George Gilbert of 14 Curve Street". 

Soon after Cocoa's big adventure, the women of the house, Isabelle and Mary, George's wife (George and Mary were living with the O'Connell's at the time while they were saving up for their own place), had had enough of the rambunctious monkey's antics and turned on poor little Cocoa. The final straw came one day when George came over to visit Helen and Frank without Mary. When they asked where she was, George replied that she was home washing her hair, cursing Cocoa who had gone to the bathroom right on her head.

The O'Connell family kept Cocoa for quite a while, but they eventually gave him to a little zoo in Egypt, Massachusetts. Joseph would pay him a visit from time to time, and Cocoa always remembered his former owner.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Helen and Frank's First Home

Thanks to the GI Bill, Helen and Frank were able to buy their first home after the war. They paid $6,000 for their 1908 house on Brockton's east side and moved in on Memorial Day Weekend of 1946. 

Immediately, Frank started remodeling everything he could get his hands on. He tore down walls, moved rooms around, built new steps on the front and back of the house, added and removed windows, and etc. He even built an outdoor fireplace which the family often cooked on.

Unfortunately, the fire pit was built a little too far from the grill's grates, and when cooking, Frank had to compensate by building a large, roaring fire so the food would cook thoroughly. Helen recalls eating many charred hot dogs from this fireplace.

Meanwhile, 3 more children arrived: Carol Anne born in 1946, Donna Elaine born in 1954 (my mother), and John Joseph, born in 1956.

After the war, Frank found work at the Wollaston Foundry as a molder making man-hole covers and other cast iron items. When he was in his 50's though, he began to develop breathing problems. He was checked up in the VA Hospital in West Roxbury and diagnosed with Emphysema and chronic Bronchitis from smoking, and potentially his exposure to asbestos from the cement finishing that he was doing before the war.

His conditions only worsened over time and soon Helen took a job at the shoe factory to make ends meet...

Helen, Frank, and Lucia

Baby Carol

Baby John and Baby Donna

Carol, Donna, Frank, and Eddie

Donna, Carol, and John

John in front of the backyard fireplace   

Frank and Helen's house, circa 2011

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To Grammy's House I Go

I'm off to see this lovely lady today, this time with some fresh lemon basil fettuccine in tow:

Grammy in her all-time favorite dress, circa 1940-something

Monday, July 9, 2012

George O'Connell's English War Bride

Frank's brother George O'Connell served abroad for 5 years as a supply sergeant in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and England. His first stop after basic training was Lester, England, where he was stationed with his 2 best friends from Brockton.

The 3 friends often attended dances together in town and they soon met a trio of English ladies. Pretty soon, things got serious with George and his girlfriend Mary Easingwood, and George's mother Isabelle received a letter home saying that the 2 were to be married.

This upset Isabelle very much because she didn't know Mary, and had heard many stories of European girls marrying American soldiers in hopes of receiving insurance money if they were killed in combat. She wrote a letter to Frank, who was also stationed in England at the time, telling him to please find his brother and stop him. 

Frank asked his lieutenant for permission to find his brother and he was denied leave. He knew how important it was to his mother that he go though, so he went AWOL and thumbed his way across the English countryside until he found Lester, and his brother George.

He arrived just in time for the wedding and got to meet Mary and her family before the ceremony. He was only able to stay one day, but spent this time getting to know the Easingwood's, whom he was very fond of. He particularly liked Mary's father who took him on a tour of all the local English pubs.

After the wedding, he made his way back to where he was stationed and wrote his mother a letter, reassuring her that Mary was a nice girl from a good family and that their marriage wasn't a bad idea after all. His lieutenant was upset, but fortunately there were no repercussions.

When the war ended, George was shipped home, and Mary, along with the other "English War Brides", as they were called at the time, was scheduled to arrive shortly after. However, when the time came to board the ship to America, she got cold feet and returned home to her parents. George received a phone call from Mary's mother telling him of this, and asking him to "come fetch her".

George had just returned home from war and was financially unable to make the trip back to England. He spoke to Mary over the phone and persuaded her to come over on the next ship, which she did. Shortly after, George, Frank, and Helen picked up a very seasick Mary from The Queen Mary in New York City.

George and Mary remained happily married for many, many years and both of George's friends also married their English girlfriends as well.

George and Mary on their wedding day

The happy couple

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Eddie D'Amarino and The Big Red One

Eddie D'Amarino's active duty began on October 15, 1941 and he received his basic training in the medic corp at Camp Lee in Virginia. After training, he was sent to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi where he served for 2 years. During his years in Biloxi, Helen remembers him complaining often about the blistering heat of the south and how he hoped to be transferred to a more moderate climate. Unfortunately for Eddie, there was no such luck, and his next transfer was to an even hotter location: Miami, Florida.

In Miami at the time, a number of hotels were confiscated and turned into army hospitals. Eddie lived and worked at the Nautilus Hotel on Miami Beach and treated wounded veterans there. Soon though, more troop replacements were needed in Europe and all able bodied men were transferred to the infantry and shipped overseas, including Eddie.

He served one year abroad and was assigned to the 29th division of General McAuliffe's 1st army, or the Big Red One Division. During his time in Europe, he fought in many battles and his division received numerous declarations, and had 2 medal of honor recipients.

Helen recalls one funny story that Eddie told of how on cold winter nights in Germany, that he and some of the other men would go into the cellars of bombed out houses to try to get a good night's sleep. He said that every single house - without fail - had at least one large barrel of sauerkraut in the basement.

Eddie was honorably discharged on January 18th, 1946. He returned home to his family in Brockton, and received a $300 bonus from the military for his service. 

Eddie D'Amarino in front of the Nautilus Hotel in Miami

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesdays With Grammy...continued

Since Grammy and I weren't able to cover over 100 years of family history in 4 short Tuesday sessions (how did I even think that was possible?), I've decided to extend Tuesdays With Grammy into July to give us enough time to go through everything.

So, since today is Tuesday, it's off to Grammy's house I go, this time with a nice box of pastries from the North End (courtesy of Dan Kaplan who made a 2 hour trek to Modern Pastry yesterday on his lunch break, what a guy...)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Frank Gets Drafted

On December 7th 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States went to war. There was a draft board in downtown Brockton, and all men between the ages of 18 and 38 were required to register. After doing so, the army would send a letter if you were selected to report for a physical. Frank, his brothers George and Jodie, and Helen's brothers Michael and Eddie, all received these letters and were required to show up in Boston for an examination. Michael was rejected because he had 2 punctured ear drums from chronic childhood ear infections and returned home to Brockton. Frank, George, Jodie, and Eddie were all drafted into the army.

Frank was stationed in Europe from August 1944 to November 1945 and served in the 26th infantry division of General Patton's 3rd army. He was the leader of an all Irish squad nicknamed, "The Shamrock Platoon", where he was dubbed "The Wild Irishman". He amassed quite the reputation overseas and The Boston Traveler (what is now the Boston Herald), sent famed war correspondent Andrew Tully to Europe just to track him down for an interview. Frank's famous quote from the article was:

"There are two kinds of people in the world: the Irish, and those who wish to hell they were Irish".

He fought in the infamous Battle of the Bulge, and liberated 2 concentrations camps: Buchenwald and Ohrdruf. He was awarded 2 Purple Hearts, one for when he was struck in the leg by a German sniper (which later caused him to have his leg amputated).

While he was away, Helen was left home to care for baby Eddie. It was a tough time for all, and much time was spent awaiting correspondence from the troops who were overseas. At this time, mail was delivered twice a day and Frank wrote many letters home to his family. Eddie also wrote home often, and Helen remembers reading these letters aloud to Lucia who wasn't able to read English fluently.

During the war, all the single women were expected to work in the local factories that manufactured ammunition. Helen's friend Mary worked in one of these factories and she remembers her coming home from work with her hands yellowed from the chemicals used to fill bullets and hand grenades.

V-E Day came on May 8, 1945 and the world celebrated the end of the war. Shortly after, Helen received a letter from Frank telling her that they would soon be making the journey home and not to worry if she didn't hear from him for a while. She received a final letter before Frank boarded a ship back to the United States, and he returned home to Brockton in December of 1945.

Frank O'Connell and Eddie D'Amarino