2009-02-20 / Columnists

The Progressive

Soldiers Never Die
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

It was a frigid, gray, dreary, dismal Christmas 2008 for my wife, Louisa. She was visiting her father who was seriously ill. I was at home with my daughter nursing an aching back. Falling on the ice in front of my home on Christmas Eve, I decided to forgo a visit to the hospital room of a hero. All fathers are heroes to their children. They sacrifice for their families and deserve recognition and respect. This hero was a hero to all Americans who appreciate the sacrifices of the men who fought for this nation against the racist and militaristic fascist regimes. My father-in-law was a veteran of the Pacific campaign of the Second World War.

My wife and her sisters were taking care of their father for more than two years. He became increasingly feeble and weak. Often, we thought this would be his final day on this earth. Priests were often giving him his final rites. That Christmas my wife felt that day would be her father's last day. She called her two sisters. Their paternal grandfather expired an earlier Christmas Day. As others gathered with their loved ones to celebrate the gift of life, the Vezza family gathered to celebrate the death of a loved one. It was not to be this Christmas of 2008 that this family would be bereft. My fatherin law was not to go to his reward until a month later.

Born in Tufo di Minturno, Italy as the First World War raged in Europe, he left his beloved homeland at sixteen to come to this nation. He left to reunite with other family memebers who left the misery and poverty of Southern Italy. He left when Il Duce espoused his extreme nationalistic and militaristic ideas. When this nation was attacked he was drafted and served this nation as a soldier. He earned many medals. He earned Bronze, Silver, and Purple Heart medals, among others. He was a member of the Hourglass Unit and in one battle was one of the last three surviving members of his battalion. He was there at Okinawa, Leyete Islands, Luzon, and the Aleutian Islands battles.

We always felt he would be here. One general said, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." And when he did fade away with the dignity and acceptance of a man who survived a great depression, poverty, and war - we were made aware of how a simple person doing his duty can never get the respect he or she deserves. My father- in-law, on a meager income as a barber, sent three daughters to college. He received an Honor Guard who played taps at the gravesite. He received medals. And yet I believe the nation needs to do more for all veterans. These men wanted a better world and a better America. If we truly appreciate their sacrifices, we need to strive to make this nation one fit for heroes.

Veterans deserve an America that values education, simple moral values, and a commitment to use military action only as a last resort to resolve disputes. These men wanted an America that allows all Americans an education, employment that supports a decent standard of life, and adequate health care. Our soldiers that faded away did not die in vain if we do our duty and make this great nation a place of promise. This nation was a land of promise for my father-in-law and he did his duty. Duty is a foreign word for too many Americans. Self-interest has been celebrated in recent years. We must return to the simple values of sacrifice and service to our family, community, and nation as we face the challenges of a weak economy, international terrorist groups, and war overseas.

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