I have written stories about her brothers, all who served the United States during wartime, three in WW2 and one during the Korean War. But the story of their little sister, Gloria, is one of the most inspirational stories I have ever heard.
She was born in 1931, the only girl and youngest child of Angelo Dodaro and Teresa Spadafora Dodaro. After giving birth to five boys, Teresa was exalted, and named her daughter, Gloria! Finally, Teresa had a daughter, and from the start, they had a special bond.
While her brothers were about to be sent to war, Gloria was fighting a battle of her own at home in Queens, New York. In 1939, when she was only eight years old, she contracted Rheumatic Fever after a bout with Streptococcus Type A. (The same type of strep bacteria that put me in the hospital and on life support many years later.) Strep, untreated, can lead to Rheumatic Fever. There were no antibiotics to fight Strep and save a little girl’s life in 1939. Unlike strep, Rheumatic Fever is not contagious, it is actually an immune response to the untreated infection. Rheumatic Fever causes high fevers, painful joints, a rash of pink rings on the skin with clear centers, uncontrollable jerky movements of the body, and symptoms of congestive heart failure including difficulty breathing, fast heartbeat, chest pain and fatigue. Rheumatic Fever can cause an enlarged heart, fluid around the heart, and can create a heart murmur. The doctors treated the disease with sulfa, which caused her eyes to swell and burn terribly. Gloria became bedridden for three months. From March of 1939 until June of 1939, she was unable to attend school and was in so much pain that it was difficult for anyone to move her little body. But, thankfully, she did recover. The next year, in October 1940, her family moved from 1735 Stephen Street, Ridgewood, Queens, to 60-80 Freshpond Road, Maspeth, Queens.
When war broke out in 1941, her brother, Massimo, took the place of his older brother, Dalmazio, and volunteered. The government was asking each family to send one son to war. Twenthy-four-year-old Dalmazio was a quieter and gentler man than twenty-two-year-old Massimo, so Massimo thought he could save his brother from having to serve. Massimo enlisted and joined an army tank unit. He received the Bronze Star for his actions during the battle of the bulge. No one knew at the beginning of the war that it would last so long and need so many soldiers over the years. Massimo fought in that war for the entire five years, but voluntary service did not spare his brothers. In the years that followed, Dalmazio fought in Africa and Italy, contracting Malaria while in Africa, and Louie served in the Navy, almost losing his life on the aircraft carrier, USS Franklin, that was bombed and nearly sunk off of Japan in 1945. (Read their individual stories in my blogs.) The youngest of the boys, Frank, was allowed to stay home for the duration of the war to help his mother and his father. His father, Angelo, was disabled with emphysema. Frank then served in the Army during the Korean War.
In March of 1941, Gloria contracted Rheumatic Fever for the second time. She was ten years old now and bedridden once again. Penicillin had been discovered, but was not yet widely produced. Production of Penicillin would become critical during WW2 and became available to the soldiers in 1943/44. Before Penicillin, soldiers were issued sulfa pills and powder in their first-aid kits.
So, in spite of the fact that the doctors now knew Gloria was allergic to Sulfa, it was still the only treatment available to her in 1941. Sulfa allergy symptoms include swelling of eyes and throat, itchy eyes and hives on the skin, nausea and asthma or wheezing. It was once again terribly painful for her to even be moved. Her mother’s friend, Elfida Guarasci, was the only person who was able to wash Gloria gently enough not to cause her more pain.
Her neighbors owned the pharmacy next door, Al and Carolina Normandia. Their daughter, Caroline, had become one of Gloria’s closest friends. Mrs. Normandia, who was the president of the Mothers’ Club for P.S. 153, would give Gloria her school lessons because she was again bedridden until June. Gloria says that Mrs. Normandia did such a great job that she was the reason Gloria was able to continue on to receive honors.
In October 1941, Gloria suffered more complications and had to have her tonsils removed. She was not able to return to P.S. 153 because she was advised not to climb stairs. Mr. Normandia was instrumental in getting Gloria into P.S. 119 in Glendale, which was all on one floor. When Gloria graduated from 8th grade, it was with honors and she was placed in all honors classes in high school. At her high school graduation, she received a Gold Medal in Italian and a Silver Medal in Secretarial Studies.
When Gloria was fifteen, her brother, Dalmazio, married Catherine “Kitty” Spadafino, on September 8, 1946. At the wedding, she was introduced to Kitty’s handsome cousin, eighteen-year-old Steve Santacroce. Three years later, Gloria told her friend, Caroline, that she was not going to go to their high school prom. Caroline was dating Gloria’s brother, Frank, and Gloria was seeing Frank’s friend at the time. But Gloria thought that the boy she was seeing was too serious and that if she went to the prom with him, he would expect them to get engaged. So she had decided not to go at all. Gloria’s sister-in-law, Kitty, then suggested that she would ask her cousin, Steve, to accompany Gloria to the prom and Gloria agreed. It was the beginning of a life-time of love and friendship.
After High School, Gloria worked for Bell Labs as the secretary to the Research Engineer who was the department head of about fifty sub engineers. He researched direct 7 and 10 digit dialing, before this, all telephone calls had to be made through an operator.
Wanting to do his part during WW2, Steve had forged his birth certificate to join the Navy before he was eighteen, but when his mother found out, he joined the Naval-Marine Reserves, instead. He was reactivated in September 1950 and was sent to boot camp on Paris Island, South Carolina.
Gloria married Steve on June 17 1951.
He became a chauffeur for Brigadier General Strothers of Alabama who was in charge of the depot supplies in Philadelphia. While the Brigadier General had to get a check-up at the hospital, his aide, Lieutenant Williams, came to visit Gloria and Steve in Queens and they brought him to Manhattan to see the Empire State Building and had lunch with him at Dempsey’s. That night they went to visit the General at St. Albans VA Hospital in Jamaica, Queens. After the war, Steve worked for New York City and chauffeured the Sanitation Commissioners and, later, drove a pumper truck for the New York City Fire Department. Finally, he was a car Salesman for General Motors for almost twenty years and had the honor to earn recognition as the Eastern Seaboard’s Number One Salesman for two years in a row.
Gloria became a mother for the first time when her daughter, Susan, was born in 1955. She then went on to give birth to four more children, Linda in 1958, Marie in 1961, Gloria in 1965, and finally, after four daughters she had a son, Stephen, in 1967. After Stephen’s birth, she told her obstetrician that her childhood doctor had told her mother that Gloria should not have too many children because her heart had been affected by her bouts with Rheumatic Fever. In reference to her having five children, her obstetrician then replied, jokingly, “Well then, I guess it was therapy.”
Little Gloria has now outlived all of her siblings and most of their spouses, and only she and Caroline (who married Frank) remain. At eighty-nine years old, she has nine grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. Sadly, Steve passed away in 2013. Gloria has survived throat cancer and fought to get her voice back. Because of the treatment for the cancer, damage was done to her voice box. For three years she couldn’t speak because she had a tracheostomy and was also unable to eat solid food. But with unbelievable grit and determination, she was finally able to have the tracheal tube removed after years of suffering and regained some of her voice. She is a remarkably strong woman who I am honored to call aunt, as my husband is the son of her brother, Frank (who passed away in 1996), and her best friend, Caroline.
Gloria has always been a treasure trove of information about her family and has shared hundreds of stories with me. Each story has helped me in my research and has brought the names of her ancestors to life for me. It is my hope, that in writing these stories down now, I can help ensure that her memories will be available for future generations, because her memories, like her, are precious and priceless and should never be forgotten.
Beautifully written. As we say in Italian, “PERFETTO”!
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Love you, Aunt Gloria! Stay safe!