Monday, May 30, 2016
TRIBUTE TO THOSE WHO GAVE (AND GIVE) THEIR LIVES
Memorial Day is not just a holiday weekend. It is a time when we consciously remember and honor those who sacrificed with their lives that we might enjoy freedom, and a lasting world of peace. People like my Grand Uncle Joseph Giardina.
Grand Uncle Joe was my Grandmother’s baby brother. He was born in Messina, Italy, which is located in the northeast corner of Sicily. He came to America as a young boy along with my Great Grandparents, Catherina and Joseph Giardina, and his five siblings. They settled in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York.
Grand Uncle Joe wanted to become an accountant. But when the Second World War broke out he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to today’s U.S. Air Force where he served as a gunner (and later a radioman). Grand Uncle Joe was involved in some serious missions, one for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, which hung in the parlor of my Great Grandparents’ home.
Grand Uncle Joe was taken prisoner in the Philippines. The family did not know what had befallen him because the War Department did not know. He was merely listed as MIA, missing in action. Grand Uncle Joe endured thirty-nine torturous months in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The family suffered along with him, crying and praying every night with all of their might around the family table that Joe was alive, and safe.
I saw photos of Grand Uncle Joe when he first enlisted. He was a big, strong, handsome man. He looked like the actor John Gavin (pictured here), of fame in the 1950’s who later became a U.S. Ambassador if my recollection is correct. I saw photos of Grand Uncle Joe when he was liberated from the prisoner of war camp at the end of the war. He looked like he was one hundred years old, having lived a brutally tough life.
Grand Uncle Joe’s homecoming was a sweet surprise and gift from God to the family. He went on to make a career in the Air Force and achieved the rank of CWO 4 (Chief Warrant Officer). During his career he served two tours of duty in Japan, the nation that had held him captive and treated him and his fellow prisoners inhumanely. But Grand Uncle Joe, like the Giardina family, was a sweet man and held no bitterness towards what were then enemies of his adopted country or towards his captors.
Grand Uncle Joe died a few years ago. He retired to Stony Point, New York, near West Point, where he and my Grand Aunt frequented. He lived a rich, full life, living into his nineties and experiencing the birth of grandchildren. He was buried in Arlington Cemetery with full military rights. I attended his funeral. He was an inspiration to me.
During his captivity, in the darkest hours of his life, he imagined the end of the war. He imagined rejoining his family and marrying his sweetheart, Angelina, who was with him throughout his life. He imagined a lasting peace.
Take this moment to quiet your mind, salute and give thanks to Joe and those many military men and women who out of their love and devotion have unselfishly paved the way for us to live in peace. Imagine.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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