Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Before the D-Day anniversary on June 6 gets too far away, I'd like to tell you about my Uncle Mike. He was in D-Day.  He landed on Omaha Beach, literally driving out of the water in an amphibious jeep into thick machine gun fire. He fought in all the major battles from Omaha Beach to the liberation of Paris and on to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and then to Berlin. At the time, he was 22. He was hit with shrapnel, and he contracted malaria.  And, he was awarded the Purple Heart. 

He was my youngest uncle, and he received a draft deferment because he worked as a supervisor at the Autolite factory in New York City which made the 20 mm shells that were widely used. But, his older brothers were serving, and he felt it was his duty to join the fight.

All the men in my family served during the war, with the exception of my Uncle Angelo on my mother's side who was too old, and my Uncle Gregory on my father's side who was a Catholic priest. My father Mark was an airplane mechanic during the war.  My Uncle Sal was a surgeon, and he spent the war on a Navy Red Cross vessel operating on the wounded. My Uncle Ralph (we were both named after his father) was fluent in Japanese, so they sent him to Japan during the Occupation. My Uncle John was a radar operator on a radar ship. My Uncle Gene worked in military intelligence in London, and he rescued a young woman during one of the aerial bombardments. It was exactly like in the movie Hanover Street starring a young Harrison Ford and the lovely Lesley-Anne Down. That young woman became Gene's wife, and she had the same name: Jean- my Aunt Jeannie. 

But, the one who was caught in the inferno was Mike. He was in the 38th Cavalry Recognisance Squadron (Mechanized). And they had a motto: "Always in Front". That's because they were. The 38th was one of the most valorous units, and they suffered some of the worst casualties of the war. Mike was a corporal, but he could have become a sargeant. It was repeatedly offered to him, but he turned it down because he did not want to be responsible for ordering men to their deaths. I'll note that Mike's odyssey during the war was exactly the same as J.D. Salinger's, and they may have crossed paths. 

Salinger wound up in a mental hospital for a year at the end. Mike had his struggles too. He was a bit cynical because he felt there was a callous disregard for the lives of the men. And for the rest of his life, he only worked for himself. He never took a job working for anyone else, and that's because he was done taking orders. He went to San Pedro, California and learned how to become a commercial fisherman. Then, he acquired a boat, gathered a crew, and started fishing, which he did for many years. He also went into the Christmas tree business, running several lots in San Pedro as "Mike DiMeglio's Hollywood Trees" becoming quite the local celebrity. In his later years, he grew Christmas trees in Oregon, living there in the Christmas tree forest, often alone, and enjoying the peace and quiet and solitude. He died in 2014 at the age of 91. 

I have mixed feelings about World War II. On the one hand, I admire the courage and heroism of men like Mike, but on the other hand, I deeply regret the fact that the Allies resorted to terror bombing of civilian populations in Germany and Japan. "Terror bombing" is what the German people called the raids on Dresden, Hamburg, and other cities in which incendiary bombs were used, which spread fire throughout the city. Civilians were targeted, and that was a war crime. Although the US signed Geneva Convention IV in 1949 which made what they did in World War II a war crime, the fact is that it was already a war crime. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 called for the protection of civilians during war. 

The use of atomic weapons against Japan was also an atrocity. There was no need to do it. Japan had already agreed, in principle, to surrender, and they were just ironing out the details. There was only one sticking point: they wanted their Emperor Hirohito excluded from prosecution since he was a religious leader. He was no more responsible for the war than the Queen of England. But, we said no and dropped the bombs. Then, they surrendered unconditionally, but guess what? We never went after Hirohito anyway. He lived to 1989 a free man. We dropped the atomic bombs to impress the Soviet Union. That's the only reason.

These were atrocities, and there is no excuse for them. I've heard about the German atrocities, but they are no excuse. Certain things you don't do, no matter what the other side does. 

My cousin Gary has written a book about Uncle Mike's experiences during the war, which I have read in manuscript form, and it is magnificent. And what a movie it would make! And fortunately, there is hope now that it may get published. The title is: Always in Front.  

I have done this song to honor my Uncle Mike. It was written for men like him. It was meant to be an anthem to men like him. And as you listen to the words, you should imagine that the soldier singing isn't going to make it. He isn't going home, except maybe in a body bag. It's called: I'll Be Seeing You.  



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