My father-in-law was not a very talkative man, but during Easter of 1995, he, uncharacteristically, told me his story about visiting Italy while he was stationed in Austria during the Korean War. At the time, I was so thankful that he was giving me this gift that I could pass down to my children someday. What I didn’t know then, was that it was going to be his last Easter. In September of 1995, the doctor’s found that he had Pancreatic Cancer. An operation borrowed some time for him and I am grateful that he was able to see my son born in February of 1996. But in early April, he passed away.
This is the story he told me:
While in the Army and stationed in Austria, Frank went to visit his relatives in Calabria. While on a train to Castrovillari he and his buddy had become thirsty. It was July of 1952 and it was very hot. They were dressed in American uniforms and when the train stopped they asked people to tell them where they could get something to drink. The Italian people, seeing that they were Americans, would not help them. After switching trains and on the last leg of the trip they asked the conductor for water. At first he wouldn’t help them either, but when he asked who they were going to visit in Castrovillari, Frank told them Francesco Dodaro. All of a sudden the conductor became very helpful and got them some water. Francesco Dodaro (Frank’s uncle) held a high position within the railroad and was called “Captain” by the workers.
Francesco brought them to a hotel a few blocks (approximately 5 blocks) from his home because his house was not large enough. There was a cross & sickle (communist) sign across from the hotel. They walked everywhere they went unless they took a horse and carriage. One night they went to a pub with Francesco. They once again were in their uniforms. The Italians were making comments about the Americans and Francesco told Frank to ignore them. After a while, some Italian soldiers arrived, they had been trained as part of NATO and were friendly toward Americans. When they saw Frank and his buddy, they sat down at the table with them. After this, the other Italian’s in the pub became friendly too.
After a few days Francesco drove Frank and his buddy (Ralph Muse) to Cosenza to visit his sisters, Celestina and Ida. Francesco, who did not speak to his sisters because of a family feud, dropped Frank off a block away and told him how to get to their house. The women did not know he was coming, so they were surprised to see their American nephew. At this time, Celestina was a widow, Ida may have been a spinster. Celestina had two daughters, Antonina, and Yolanda. Their home was very poor. They used pieces of paper as toilet paper. When Frank left he gave them some money to help out.
Later in 1952, Frank returned to Consenza to visit his aunts again. He felt they needed his help so he went directly to them and did not stop to visit Francesco. On this second visit, Ida was very ill and confined to bed. She died shortly after. During this visit, Frank went on a trip with one of the girl cousins to Bari. While he was away in Bari, his mother’s sister (his mother was the girl who had a pet wolf) had “come down from the mountains of Parenti” to see him. Unfortunately, she missed him. Frank believes it was Luigina, since Angelina had already migrated to Argentina. Upon leaving Consenza, he again left his aunts some more money.
Meanwhile, Francesco wrote to Frank’s father, Angelo, in America and asked if Frank could come to live with him after the Korean War. Francesco had only had one son who had died as a young boy. But Frank chose to return to America to be married.
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy and The Porcelain Doll