This Tuesday was a bright sunny day amidst a week of chilly overcast ones. I’d already had my morning walk but around noon I ran an errand and on my way back home I saw Angelo sitting in his white plastic chair at the front of his kid’s lot. I’ve written about Angelo before a few times. He’s 94 years old but mentally sharp as a tack. He’s got a great attitude and a few minutes chat with him always brightens my day.
He’d laid back in the chair and as I walked down to his place I could see him close his eyes as he soaked up the sun. He was smiling and wearing a shirt of many colors with the inscription John 16:4 on it—that’s the verse that says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” I didn’t think that he’d dozed off yet but I didn’t want to startle him. You think twice about startling someone who’s his age. Anyway, I softly said, “Hey Angelo.” He opened his eyes and said, “Hey Bud.” He seemed genuinely happy to see me. I’d been a month or more since we’d last talked, and as ever he asked how I was doing.
We talked about what a lovely day it was, and I mentioned I was getting company soon from Illinois and what a lousy winter they’d had up north. He said yeah I talked to my kid brother in Connecticut the other day. His kid brother is 74. Then Angelo told me he was third out of twelve children, and that segued into, “Did I ever tell you my father Nicolo sang with Caruso?”
I hadn’t heard that story before. I’d heard about him meeting Babe Ruth when he was a kid haunting Yankee Stadium, heard about him pulling sentry duty on Diamondhead a year before Pearl Harbor, and about his encounters with the Luftwaffe during WWII. But I hadn’t heard about his dad singing with Caruso. He said yeah every time Caruso came to NY and sang at the Met he would request that his father do a duet with him. His father was a locally famous semi-professional opera singer. Between singing gigs he built pianos for Baldwin to support his big family.
I asked him if he’d ever heard of Lou Zamperini and the best-selling book Unbroken. He shook his head no. I thought I’d mention it because he and Lou have some things in common. Other than both being Italian and close in age, they both flew on B-24s during the war, and they are both strong for the Lord. Zamperini has been on TV a few times and I thought Angelo might’ve seen him promoting the book. Zamperini was a distance runner who competed in the 1936 Olympics. During the WWII he was a navigator on a B-24. His plane went down in the Pacific and he spent 47 days on a raft only to be picked up by the Japanese. The Japs were notoriously inhumane to their Caucasian prisoners and Zamperini endured starvation and considerable torment. After the war, and suffering PTSD, he attended a Billy Graham revival in LA and accepted the Lord. In 1950, he returned to Japan and personally forgave his captors, and witnessed to them thru an interpreter. That’s powerful.
Me talking about the war and mentioning B-24s, sparked Angelo to reminisce about how hazardous flying was then. He said, “You know they weren’t pressurized. We had to have oxygen bottles. One time I was switching positions with the tail gunner and going back there I passed out from the thin air. They brought me to with a blast of pure oxygen.” He chuckled and said, “If I’m going to go, that’s the way.” I guess the pure oxygen gave him a bit of a high.
Angelia Jolie is filming Unbroken. You can already catch some of the previews on Youtube. It’s due to be released around Christmas. If he’s up for it I’d like to take him to see it—but only if he’s up for it. Angelo’s a sensitive guy and some of the memories about the war still haunt him. He flew 22 missions as a ball-turret gunner—suspended on the belly of the plane in a plexiglass orb it was the most hazardous position on a B-24.
I look forward to seeing the movie, but as far as I’m concerned there’s an authentic American hero living right down the street.