Sing of the Unsung
With celebrations of the final victories at the end of World War II occurring throughout this year, the spotlight inevitably falls on the leaders who made the decisive decisions, led the decisive campaigns: Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, et al. Homage is also paid to the unsung, but most often only as the nameless among the larger contingent of their units. In this issue we sing the unsung, name a few names.
Our particular focus came about almost parenthetically. My wife, Candy, has been scanning in photos of our 55 years together, much of the time working her way back in time. A few weeks ago, she began showing me photos her father, Gene Grimes, had taken when he was a US Navy salvage diver, stationed in Naples under repeated attack by the German Luftwaffe. Next she moved on to an album we’d recovered when we sold the home of our aunt, Frances, and uncle, Tony, to set up a trust for our aunt after our uncle had died. Tony – Antonio Rufino – was a cadet in training for the Italian Navy when Italy surrendered and the Nazis began retreating north through Italy after their losses to the Allies in North Africa. Dates showed that both men had been in Italy at the same time, serving on opposite sides. (My uncle was arrested by the Nazis for refusing to be conscripted into their navy and was sent to a prison camp in Czechoslovakia.) Life vectored both men into the loving arms of my family. We felt it made a compelling story as just one more of the disparate personal chapters in the lives of those directly affected by the war and how their lives played out after the war was over. A photo essay of their stories begins on Page 29.
One of the peripheral stories that has always intrigued me involved my grandfather, Antonio, after whom I am named, albeit my name Americanized. My grandfather was a pyrotechnist, an artistry he brought with him from Italy. During the war, he went to work in a defense plant, there not being anything to celebrate with fireworks at the time. His English never advanced much beyond the basics, so he was unaware that the plant had been asked to come up with a thick black smoke with which American destroyers could protect cargo ships crossing the Atlantic from German U-boats. The college-educated chemists were only managing to create weak gray smoke. When a fellow immigrant told him of the failed efforts, he replied, “I can make that.” He explained pyrotechnists knew how black smoke was made because it would ruin their shows. Skeptical, the chemists resisted until they had no choice. The result was exactly what was needed. We know he never got credit for it, but we like to think the credit lay in how many lives were saved by a jet black smokescreen my grandfather created. After his death, in the many drawings of his fireworks designs we found among his personal effects, was one of a US Navy destroyer with thick curls of black smoke trailing in its wake. Salute, grandpa.
In addition to the combatants, the effects of the war were also felt on the home front, as detailed in Kendric Taylor’s memoir, “Summer Camp, The War Years,” beginning on Page 34.