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Happy Veterans’ Day, Uncle Jules

November 11, 2014

 

Happy Veterans’ Day, Uncle Jules

 

Part 2. A Cornucopia of Thanks to All of Our Veterans

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

In this second in a November series of “A Cornucopia of Thanks,” I am abundantly thankful to all our veterans whom we, as a nation, honor on November 11.  Of course, as a daughter and niece, I am ever so thankful for the service of my dad and his three brothers during World War II.  My extended family and I are eternally grateful that these four Massa brothers came home from the European Theater safe and well to return to a life in the United States of America where they could be the outstanding and beloved sons, brothers, husbands, uncles, and fathers that they were.  While Uncle Charlie died much too soon at age 56, we have been blessed that my dad lived to age 84 and his brother Johnny lived to age 92.  This essay is respectfully and lovingly dedicated to my Uncle Jules–the youngest of the Massa brothers, who lives in California.

 

In 2002, at age 76, my Uncle Jules recorded one cassette tape–filled with family history for me.  This past winter, at age 87, Uncle Jules recorded another family history tape for other family members and for me.  As I sit down to write this essay, I have just listened to these two remarkable recordings again.  Uncle Jules’ son-in-law, Pat, made CD copies of the most recent cassette to help preserve these notes of family history.

 

During the summer of 2013, when my sister and I visited my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bill in Minnesota, my aunt–the sister of the four Massa brothers–gave me a little gift which my dad had given to her when he was in the Army.  I treasure this keepsake–a facial powder compact shaped like an Army hat (dress peaked cap) of the World War II era.  In my mind’s eye, I can picture my very handsome dad wearing this style of Army hat in his Army photograph.  My dad, the second of the four brothers, was the first to enlist in the military on April 9, 1941, at age 27.  Like his other brothers that would follow him, my dad began his military training in Mississippi.

 

Amazingly, a few months after my dad had been at Camp Shelby, Uncle Jules (then, only fourteen) went with brothers Charlie and Johnny, as well as their father and Uncle Johnny’s wife (Louise), to visit my dad.  Especially in that period before interstate highways, the trip from Indiana to Mississippi was a long one; however, the journey was worthwhile because they were able to drive right onto the post and visit with my dad.  Being such a young teen, Uncle Jules was quite impressed with all that my dad had to show his youngest brother.  Unbeknownst to the four brothers and their father at that visit, all four brothers would take a much longer journey to Europe within the next few years to serve their country.

 

From Camp Shelby, my dad went to Texas for training with a tank destroyer unit:  the soldiers in this tank destroyer battalion learned to rescue a disabled tank–work that they later did in the war zone.  Although he next trained in the Mojave Desert in anticipation of going to North Africa, plans changed.  After training in the desert, Dad actually went overseas with the 638th Tank Destroyer Battalion to the cold battlefields of Europe.

 

My father was one of those individuals of the Greatest Generation who was at the Battle of the Bulge.  His brother Johnny, three years younger than my dad, was also at the Battle of the Bulge–in the Infantry.  Undoubtedly, Uncle Johnny endured the harshest circumstances by being in the 69th Infantry Division; however, in the years that I knew Uncle Johnny, I never heard him talk of his war experiences–he was the most light-hearted and jovial of the family.

 

The oldest brother, Charlie, was not at the Battle of the Bulge; nevertheless, with his fine mechanical ability, he was stationed in a motor pool in Belgium.  From his position in Belgium, he learned of the hardships which Uncle Johnny was enduring.  According to Uncle Jules, Uncle Charlie sent a “V-mail” requesting warm clothes, stockings, and boots for Uncle Johnny.  Back in Klondyke, Indiana, Uncle Jules mailed the clothing to Belgium.  One month later, Uncle Charlie received the package and drove a Jeep with the warm clothing to where my Uncle Johnny was stationed.  Somehow, Uncle Charlie talked with some officers and was able to meet with his brother and give him the warm clothes.  What an astonishing moment for two brothers!

 

During this period of World War II, my Uncle Charlie and my dad were also able to visit briefly with each other, in France.  On October 9, 1945, Sergeant James F. Massa was honorably discharged from the Army and went home to his wife, whom he had married on December 4, 1942.  My Uncle Johnny went home to his wife and to his first son–the baby who until that time had not had an opportunity to be picked up and embraced by his father.

 

Near the end of the war, the youngest of the four brothers took the advice of his brother Jimmy, my dad:  Uncle Jules did not join the Infantry.  As encouraged by my father, the youngest Massa brother joined the Army Air Corps as soon as he was graduated from Clinton High School in 1944, at age 17.  (NOTE:  For more information about my Uncle Jules’ experiences in the Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the US Air Force, please read my blog on November 19, 2014.)

 

In the extended family and among a large circle of friends, we always have wondered how my grandmother could bear having all four of her sons in World War II.  On the window of the farmhouse, my grandparents proudly displayed four blue stars.  Although my grandparents came to the United States from Italy, they became US citizens and were blessed to welcome home all four of their sons from serving their country–the United States of America.  My grandfather’s favorite music was Kate Smith’s singing of “God Bless America.”

 

God bless America and all of our veterans!  Following in the footsteps of two grandfathers, his father, and three great-uncles–my nephew Eric served our country with an eleven-month tour of duty in Iraq and a three-month tour of duty in Afghanistan as an Army Airborne Ranger.  Thanks also to the youngest veteran of our family!

 

With special thanks to Uncle Jules and with best wishes for a Happy Veterans’ Day to all,

Alice Massa and Zoe

 

November 11, 2014, Tuesday

 

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7 Comments
  1. Alice you sure brought back a lot of memories for me as I read this today. My father was drafted into WWII when I was 2 weeks old – he was with Patton’s troops in Europe and returned home after I was 2 years old. Dad was in the second wave at Battle of the Bulge, and my uncle Harry was shot in this battle, yet he was evacuated and lived to be in his 90s.

    There are so many of us who never knew the meaning of what a father is during the first years of life due to the war. I thought a father was a photograph. When Dad returned home, a real flesh and blood human being, I was quite upset. I lived with my Mother and my Aunt Jeanne as the two men were at war and I have many memories of the blackouts, the sirens, and the fear I felt.

    The NYC artist and author, Howardena Pindell, wrote of this experience too when she wrote the back page comments for my book. Her memories parallel mine and we were the same age, born that same year, 1943.

    I have a beautiful pair of earrings my father brought back from Berlin, a gift to my mother. I only wish when I was younger and my father was still living, that I would have listened to his stories and spoken with him about his experiences. I have an album of photographs he took in Germany and Czechlosovakia – very small photos taken with a little pocket camera. I treasure them. And, I think his experiences instilled in me the desire I always had to visit the Germanic countries – which I did every summer fro years while I was teaching there. I would sit in various locations and try to imagine my father coming there, during the war.

    And, the other memory is that of Kate Smith who had an afternoon television show when I was very young. I well remember her singing, “God Bless America.” We never missed tuning in to listen to her singing and speaking every day on our black and white television. I look forward to the next in your series of Cornucopia pieces. I love the ideas you have for the pieces. Write on!

  2. Alice. Words can’t express how this post touched my heart. I am speechless, other than to tell you thanks. The memories and stories you and your family hold are true inspiration. God bless and have a memorable Veteran’s Day. dp

    • Deon–As always, thanks for your special comment. Through the comments I have received about my Veterans’ Day blog post, this Veterans’ Day has become a very memorable one for me. Take care–Alice

  3. Ken Massa permalink

    Wonderful storytelling Alice. Uncle Jules called me tonight to express how proud of your blog he was and although he had a tough day (skin cancer treatment), it really lifted his spirits with those memories of his brothers. Thank you so much — and gratitude to all our vets today. Looking forward to the Nov 19 entry.
    –cousin kenny

  4. Alice, your beautifully written tribute to our wonderful dad and his three brothers is truly a gift to our entire family. I greatly appreciate the detailed history that Uncle Jules recorded for you to use in creating this essay. All four of the Massa brothers are heroes to me, and I dearly love them!
    Love, Mary

  5. Another touching tribute!

    • Carole–Thanks for your “likes” and your comments. Yes, this essay was written with a few tears. AZ

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