By John P. Flannery
On Memorial Day, we remember those who served in war and acknowledge their sacrifice of time from family and friends, from young ambition, and from life itself, so that they could give to a nation to preserve and protect the freedom it represents.
These recruits were almost always young and that made their sacrifice the greater.
Brothers Charles and John enlisted in what many thought was the greatest war, the war against Hitler. Their parents were supportive. Irish friends thought, however, they should be helping Hitler instead – to beat the English for what the Brits did to Ireland.
Charles went to Europe and John was stationed stateside in the Army Air Force on ground crews fixing and maintaining aircraft. John spent the war “trying to get into it.”
Charles fought through Sicily with General Patton’s forces and then, on to the boot of Italy. That’s where Charles was taken prisoner of war. When they landed on Italian soil, they had to fight to take weapons from Mussolini’s forces. Charles was standing by a truck after the fighting – so he thought – when he was shot in the chest. It lifted him in the air and sent him flying backwards where he lay until enemy forces took him away.
John was distraught. He had become a family man and a patriot for his country, in that order, and the price was separation from his new wife and his imprisoned brother. John kept trying to get to Europe to join the fighting, and perhaps help his brother, but his duties kept him pinned down in Texas and then in the San Joaquin Valley.
So many times John and his family had thought Charles lost to the war. Charles’ Mom and Pop aged with Charles’ uncertain absence – tortured with the uncertainty whether he was alive or not. They were also afraid John might convince some CO to let him go “over there.”
After the war was over, and his brother Charles was released by the Allies, he was light like those prisoners at Dachau, and Charles didn’t want to look like that again. He ate as if he were continuously building up stores against his days in captivity when he was starved. It was clear that Charles had not gotten the right treatment as a prisoner. He was a walking, living breathing man, and yet a casualty John’s wife had a miscarriage after the war; they were going to call the child, Charles. They considered this a bad omen. A few years later, Charles died from internal bleeding, from his war wounds. John’s wife wailed, keening, like the women of old Eire. Charles finally paid the price for his service to his country.
John looked upon his brother’s face in an open coffin, and though dead, it was reassuring somehow to see Charles for the last time — the only man my father John ever loved after his own father.
Charles is beneath a marble gravestone at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.
My father John is at Arlington National Cemetery with his wife Rusty; that’s a picture of my Dad (from his Army Air Force Days).