I spent this past Father’s Day (2019) in New Jersey with my father and brother. It had been long time since we saw each other. We went outside by the pool, around the newly constructed fire pit, and with drinks in hand sat and talked. At first, we joked (the alcohol helped but wasn’t necessary) and then, as the fire grew hot, our conversation turned serious.
We talked about the kids (my father’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren) and work; my brother and I are both still in law enforcement. And then we spoke of the past and the recent passing of my great-aunt Heidi, the wife to my grandfather’s brother, Rocco.
After a while, my father excused himself and went inside the house. When he returned, he was holding several leather-bound scrapbooks. I immediately noticed the blue circle of Patton’s Third Army.
“Is that Uncle Gus’?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied, “it’s Uncle Lou’s.” He motioned my brother and me over to a nearby table and said, “I found these after Aunt Catherine passed (she was Uncle Lou’s widow) and I thought you two would enjoy seeing what was inside of them.”
My father laid the books on the table. The first one he opened was the brown leather one you’ll see in the pictures I’ve posted below. Inside of it were the photos Uncle Lou took during his Army training in Colorado and then in Europe.
What I saw in that album was a tribute not only of my Uncle’s service and that of his band of brothers but of “Greatest Generation” as a whole.
But, let’s take a step back for a moment so I can introduce you to my late great-uncle Lou, or as his friends called him, “Ace.”
Ace was born on October 1, 1919, to the parents of Italian immigrants. He grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, but during the Great Depression, his family packed up their meager belongings and moved to Cliffside Park, NJ (right outside New York City), so his father could find work. By today’s standards, Ace came from a large family. He had two older sisters, Mary and Margret, an older brother Frances, and two younger siblings Frank and Mildred. Life was tough during the Depression, but the family survived and even thrived. And then on December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, dragging the US finally into the war.
On October 20, 1942, Ace enlisted in the Army as a private. According to the Army enlistment records, he was 5’7″ and weighed 128 lbs and only had a grammar school education. Interestingly, he possessed skills in “mechanical treatment of metals (rolling, stamping, forging, pressing, etc.).” So, after graduating Basic Training, he found himself at Camp Hale, Colorado, assigned to Battery C of the 602nd Field Artillery Pack –the predecessor to the 10th Mountain Division Artillery. He completed his training at Camp Carson with the 609th Field Artillery Pack. And then it was off to fight the Nazi’s in Germany.
Now, Ace wasn’t my blood; he was my great-uncle through marriage. He joined the Albanese family when he married my grandfather’s sister, Catherine. My grandfather, Antonio Albanese, also had two brothers: His older brother Rocco “Rocky” and Constantine, who everyone called “Gus.”
Uncle Gus was only 19 years old when he enlisted in the Army. He served in Europe and during the Battle of the Bulge earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He never spoke about his experience… at least not with me.
Uncle Rocky was also the Army, but unlike his brother, he served in the Pacific as a Signals Operator. As a child, I remember sitting in front of Uncle Rocky enthralled as he retold the stories of his time in the Pacific. I remember him saying, “Christopher, they dropped me on an island with nothing more than my rifle and a radio.”
I tried to get Uncle Gus and Uncle Lou to tell their stories too, but neither man would open up. After viewing these photos, I now understand why. And I think you’ll understand too.
These men were indeed a part of the Greatest Generation. I only wish I had more time to learn from them before they passed away.