After my father died, I found many of his artifacts that reminded me of the selflessness of the Greatest Generation. My father was a World War II veteran who served in the Navy, reaching the rank of lieutenant junior grade.
Born in 1922, Donald V. Paone (I affectionately refer to him as D.V.P.) was a college sophomore when Japanese forces ambushed the Naval Station Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He graduated a year early in June of 1943 and immediately left for boot camp.
I recall him talking about boot camp and the challenges of the swim test. He wasn’t the greatest swimmer and the Navy required all sailors to swim 100 yards without stopping. According to him, this was because if a ship were to sink it would suck you down with it, unless you were at least 100 yards away. It took him three attempts to finally pass the test.
My parents were married in 1949 and my mother said for the first few years of their marriage, when the alarm clock sounded, D.V.P. would immediately jump out of bed and stand at attention. This was a habit started in boot camp. He said anyone who didn’t do that upon reveille would be put on report.
After boot camp, he attended storekeepers’ school and then was sent overseas. He had never been on an airplane before he embarked on a transatlantic flight.
A lot of veterans don’t like to talk about their time in combat. D.V.P. spoke about it freely, probably because he didn’t spend a lot of time in it. In fact, from what I can see, his time on an actual ship was short. He was on a subchaser after being stationed in Algiers, North Africa. That time was fairly quick and he was then sent to Italy as a supply officer.
From this point on, his “war stories” had little to do with the war. While in Palermo, Sicily, he spent his time attending the opera. At home, his family was too poor to own a car, but in Sicily he learned to drive a jeep.
His mother was an Italian immigrant but his family spoke only English at home. Somehow, during the war, he found time to take foreign language lessons. But not in Italian, in French! Yes, he took French lessons while stationed in Italy. He claimed that French was purported to be the language of diplomacy, so knowing it could be of use in the future.
Speaking of language, both my parents were pretty straightlaced — they never smoked, barely drank and behaved according to the rules of etiquette. This included swearing. D.V.P. was very proud of the fact that he spent over two years in the Navy and never once said a swear word. So much for the term, “swears like a sailor.”
D.V.P. died in 2012, just two weeks before he turned 90. My mother had died almost three years before. When going through his belongings, I found a plethora of artifacts — photographs, postcards, endless official documents and three-dimensional objects.
For many years my father’s pea coat hung on a hanger from a pipe in our basement. I remember the hash marks on the sleeves. One day, probably when I was in college, I noticed it wasn’t there. I asked my mother about it. She had given it away.
My father once said to me, “That war disrupted a lot of lives.” He made it clear that the volunteers and draftees both had a job to do and they did it.
One thing is certain when looking at these items, I have to agree that this is indeed the Greatest Generation. I’m sure families throughout the country have similar artifacts buried in basements and attics. It’s important for us to unearth them and tell this generation’s stories. Don’t throw away these mementos and memories like an old pea coat. Treasure them and pass them on for posterity.