Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Lessons from the Front

by G. Jack Urso

My Uncle Carmen, along with four of his brothers, served in WWII. They fought in Europe, North Africa, and in the South Pacific, in teh army and marines. My godfather and namesake, Uncle Giocchino, was in the marines and got shot through the knee at Iwo Jima. Miraculously, they all survived.
When I graduated high school forty years ago in 1983, my Uncle Carmen sat me down. Ironically the same amount of time — forty years — has passed between now and then, 1983 and 2003, as it had from his time of service from 1943 to the date of my graduation in 1983.

He took me out back my father’s house and we sat on the deck. He had a shock of white hair that stood up like a brush and used a cane to get around. Though in his mid to late 60s, he seemed much older. Uncle Carmen exuded a cool presence. He always spoke in a low tone, never got ruffled, and never raised his voice — something of a rarity in our full-blooded hot-tempered Sicilian family.

He began to tell me about his time in the army in the South Pacific. He was on some island fighting the Japanese during the Guadalcanal Campaign. He described the hot, humid, fetid conditions, never directly discussing the horrors he saw. Having grown up during the Vietnam War on the nightly news, I could fill in the blanks.

But war stories weren’t exactly what he wanted to tell me. It was a life story.

During the campaign, my uncle said, the Japanese would send aircraft up at night they called “Washing Machine Charlies.” These were aircraft with their engines tuned to make a loud racket. The pilots would fly close to allied encampments to keep everyone from sleeping, thereby lowering the combat efficiency of the troops, as well as occasionally dropping bombs. So, you never knew what Washing Machine Charlie was going to do, and that kept everyone awake and on edge, which was just the intended effect.

Shortly after the war, Uncle Carmen (far left), Uncle Charlie (middle),
Uncle Jackie/Giocchino (far right)

My uncle spoke about how he saw guys get blown up in their tents asleep at night, never having heard the attack that killed them; however, he also noted, he saw guys get blown up in the day, fully alert and ready to fight. So, unlike many of his comrades, Uncle Carmen decided he would just go to sleep. If you’re going to get hit by a bomb, you’re going to get hit by a bomb, if you’re not, you won’t, either way, my uncle figured, he might as well just try to get a good night’s sleep.

“What’s going to happen is going to happen,” Uncle Carmen said. “Don’t worry about the bombs.”

He slipped me a $50 bill. I should have paid him.

●             ●             ●


  1. "The trouble you expect will come. . ." I can hear The Man finishing the sentence with, "so you might as well get a good night sleep."
    But that was two thousand years ago.
    Perennial wisdom.
    It remains the same. There is nothing new under the Sun, ax nd if you think therre is, you are sunstroked. Thanks for posting.