An Open Letter to Our Veterans and Military Families
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By Bob Vero
I remember the first veteran I thanked for their service. It was my mother’s father – my grandpa Angelo. He was an Italian emigrant who sailed alone from Bari, Italy at the age of 16 as a steerage passenger in a packet ship that was carrying mail, cargo and dreams of a better life. He arrived at Ellis Island and somehow found his way to Utica N.Y. where he was welcomed by extended family.
He talked so proudly about his lonely voyage across the Atlantic– his head filled with stories and thoughts about America. His dreams vivid – sustaining him throughout the long voyage. Those same dreams quieting his broken heart as he remembered saying goodbye to his older sister who was denied passage, by authorities in Bari, due to a suspected eye infection. She insisted he board alone. And he did.
He talked sadly about his name change. He left his hometown, Alberobello (beautiful tree), Italy as Angelo Cammisa — his name written on a tag pinned to his clothing. He left Ellis Island, Angelo Cammiso. Someone misspelled his name when writing up his immigration paperwork.
I recall sitting on his lap as a small child (It was in the same basement that later in my life I would enjoy spending several days with him, every fall, making Vino). Bouncing me on his knee he would point across the room at three pictures that sat on a ledge, each holding a place of prominence. Two of the three were narrow and very long. They were neither black & white nor color. Later I would learn to call them sepia. He had them glued to a thin piece of wood. The third was colorized and larger. It was poster-like and rested beneath heavy, wavy glass in a wooden frame.
Foot soldiers, cavalrymen, horse drawn covered wagons, chuck wagons, horse drawn artillery, pack mules, munition vehicles, and a beautiful German shepherd.
Of all those things, since coming to America, he was most proud of his family, his U.S. citizenship and his military service. During World War I, he fought as cavalryman in the 13th Cavalry under the command of General John J. Pershing. So proud, that on one of those long, priceless sepia photos, he drew an arrow, pointing down, over the head of a cavalryman buried deep within the mounted ranks. Yes, he proudly located himself . . . the photo forever altered.
“Thank you grandpa for protecting the United States,” I would say. He wouldn’t immediately say much. He would just bounce me on his knee some more, run his strong stone mason’s hand through my then thick wavy black hair and, with his Italian accent, softly say, “I came to America all alone at 16. Then, I joined the Cavalry. They gave me a uniform, a horse, a rifle, and a sword. They gave me the honor of defending my new country. I studied hard and became a citizen.”
When I looked up at his face, there was always a tear – – his then and yes, mine now. The salts are of pride and gratitude for his service, for instilling in me those precious childhood memories – and for instilling in me a deep and sincere appreciation for our Veterans – for all of our men and women in uniform and for our military families.
To all of you …Thank you for our safety and for our freedom. Thank you for defending our nation and protecting our friends and allies. Thank you for your courage and your selfless acts.
Thank you for your service. Happy Veterans Day