I spoke to my neighbor Angelo again this morning. We meet once or twice a week on our morning walks. Angelo will turn 92 in a little under three months–sometime during the first week of October. There’s little doubt in my mind that he’ll reach that milestone just fine. I met him two years ago a few days before his 90th birthday. He doesn’t seem to have aged at all since then; I’m certain I’ve deteriorated more than he has. My knees are more arthritic and I notice that my stride is no longer as fluid. I hobble a bit and my joints often scream “enough already” when I do my morning walk. Sometimes when I look in the mirror I’m startled by the sight of the old coot looking back. But Angelo looks the same and he certainly doesn’t carry himself at all like a man approaching 92.
The other day, just before the All-Star game, he talked about growing up in the Bronx four blocks from Yankee Stadium. He and his neighborhood pals haunted the stadium during the baseball season hoping for an autograph. He said on cool days Babe Ruth would show up wearing a red topcoat with the collar turned up around his ears. He would throw the waiting kids dimes. It didn’t get any better than that for a kid in the 1920s. Memories like that are invaluable. Of course, being Italian, Angelo thought that Joe DiMaggio was the greatest ball player ever, but his personal favorite was Phil Rizzuto the Yankee shortstop for so many years. “Scooter” Rizzuto was a little guy like Angelo.
Today I was wearing my patellar strap. It sort of looks like a garter belt just below my right knee. He asked about it and I told him that it stabilizes the knee and reduces the discomfort. He asked how long my knee had been bothering me and I told him it started a few weeks before my trip to Scotland. I had mentioned the Scotland trip before and he said he remembered me every time he thought about an old movie song, “How are things in Glockamorra?”
The song is about a fictional town in Ireland from the musical Finian’s Rainbow. But if Angelo wants to think its a real place in Scotland that’s okay with me. I knew that he had been stationed in England with the 8th Air Force during WW II, and I asked him where he had been based. He thought for a second and replied “Halesworth, near Portsmouth.” In an earlier blog I said that he’d flown on a B-17. Not true. He’d flown 22 missions as the ball turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator. Hanging under the plane in the ball turret was the most vulnerable and dangerous position. He said something to the effect that it was the spot for a “dead man.” And he added, “I led a charmed life.”
He loved the B-24 Liberator. It got him to their target and home safely 22 times. He said, “You know they were made by Consolidated Aircraft at Ford Motors in Detroit.” I already knew that. I had three or four relatives that worked for Ford in Detroit and I am pretty sure that at least one worked on the B-24 assembly line. Late in the war his bomb group was shipped back to the States and began training in Seattle on the new B-29s made by Boeing. He was due to be deployed to Okinawa when the war ended.
I asked if he had ever gone back to England after the war. He said, “No, too many bad memories.” He recounted a couple incidents for me and as he talked his eyes teared up. He said one morning when he was cleaning his guns he heard a whoosh over the quonset hut and a B-24 crashed in the woods a couple hundred feet away. It caught on fire and he said could hear the men screaming and then the bomb load blew. He was running in the opposite direction because he know what was going to happen. He said it left an enormous crater. Another time one of the men in his crew took a bullet thru the head. They didn’t know that anyone had been hit until they landed and saw the cabin splattered with blood.
There are those men who decades later remember the “glory” of war and then there are those who can only think of the horror of it all. Angelo is one of the latter. He is a sensitive, loving man who has lived history, and our conversations while passing on the road are a pleasure.