November is dedicated to the men and women of the armed services who have played a role in protecting our nation and safeguarding its future. On Memorial Day, we remember all of those service members who gave their lives for our country. On Veterans Day, we honor all those who served in any capacity.
All veterans have stories about their time in service. I invited the readers to share those stories and I got numerous responses. This column is the perfect opportunity for me to present some of them. As you read these stories, I encourage you to think with gratitude upon how much these veterans have given of themselves, their families, their time and their lives for our benefit.
William (Bill) Joseph
I graduated Mendel in 1961 and left Roseland to go on active duty in the Navy. My first assignment was to the USS Constellation (CVA-64), an aircraft carrier being built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Once the ship was built, we left New York for our new homeport in San Diego. Because the “Connie” was too big to fit through the Panama Canal we had to bring her “around the Horn.” Our cruise left Mayport, Florida, and first went to Port Au Spain, Trinidad. From there we went to Cristobal, Panama, and then on to Rio de Janeiro. Once we left Rio and went around the Horn we stopped in Santiago, Chile. After Santiago we went up to Lima, Peru, for a visit and then on to Panama City. And, it got better! From there we went to Acapulco for 10 days and then into our new home port, San Diego! You cannot imagine the experience this provided a young Roseland man on his real first adventure away from home!
Chuck Senovitz, from his son Bill’s book, “Convoy, Murmansk”
As a Merchant Seaman I served on many ships but can only say I “survived” one! On the SS Steel Navigator, separated from our convoy and alone, we were sighted by a German submarine. Within a matter of minutes the submarine fired a torpedo that struck between the #1 and #2 holds.
I ended up with 17 men in the #3 lifeboat. The German U-boat U-610 surfaced and we braced ourselves when we saw a Nazi seaman mount his machine gun and cock it. The captain, looking at us from the conning tower, laughed and smirked as he said to his young gunner: Nein! Nein! The captain then told us to enjoy our trip as they went below abandoning us to the ways of the sea.
For 6 or 7 days we drifted about in freezing weather. Some of the guys were worse off than me. My toes froze and, after we were rescued we were taken to Gourock, Scotland. The doctors wanted to amputate my toes, but I refused to let them. To this day, just as the British doctor had told me, in the winter my toes hurt like hell, but I survived!
My husband George Darabaris had an Uncle Stanley Swiontek, a member of St Salomea parish, who was killed on the USS Arizona during the attack of Pearl Harbor.
During the Cold War in the mid-’60s our diesel submarine was returning submerged from a place we were never at, after not doing what we did. I was asleep in the forward torpedo room when I was awakened by all kinds of commotion. It seems that we transited thru a fishing fleet and we were caught on a fishing net!
We had to surface to pull the net off of one of our sonar domes and then quickly dive. Since a portion of the netting that was ripped off was hanging in the forward room we all thought we each had a cool souvenir. Our CO had other ideas, so what happened never happened. I always wondered if the crew of that fishing trawler thought they had caught a whale.
When I went into the Army, the drinking age was just being lowered to 18 in Illinois. I thought I was going to miss out, but I spent my entire service time of four years, in England. It worked out great for me because the drinking age in the pubs was 18. I spent my entire time, even when the age in the U.S. got raised back to 21, drinking in the pubs. My buddies and I had a great time getting to know the locals since we became pub regulars.
While serving in Vietnam as a Company Clerk, our 2nd Lieutenant, Irving Reynolds from New York, had me go along on community relations visit to the nearby Hmong Village. It was a small village of about eight huts, some water buffalo, and about 30 people who welcomed us. As we joined the elders in a circle squatting on the ground, the villagers brought out a pitcher of rice wine.
Rice wine is synonymous with homemade grappa or moonshine or hootch, but we didn’t know that at the time. The elders took a drink and Lieutenant Reynolds decided to join them. I took a sip and thought better of it and throughout the ongoing discussion I slowly poured the liquid on the ground between my legs. Unfortunately, Captain Reynolds decided the best way to get it over with was to swallow the entire contents. The veins on his neck popped as his face reddened and his eyes bulged and watered! His rapid drinking of the rice wine suggested to the elders that his cup needed to be refilled. Needless to say, that was the one and only community relations mission Captain Reynolds ever went on.
CJ about his son, Commander James Martello
On one of his first assignments as an officer, he was assigned as the ship’s personnel officer. It was his job to assure that his assigned sailors maintained up-to-date personnel information and also fulfilled any financial obligations they had. Unfortunately, it came to his attention through contact from the spouse of one of his sailor’s that she and her children had not received any of the sailor’s pay for months. This news did not sit well with him as it was part of the sailor’s duty to fulfill his financial obligations.
It was a necessary decision that had to be made. The result in closing the file on the case was that the sailor received $50 for the month while his wife and children received a direct deposit of the remainder of his check.
When I came home to Roseland on leave from the Navy, my dad always wanted to take me out to eat locally. He insisted that I wear my uniform because he wanted his friends to know that his son was in the service. This was during the mid- and late 1960s, when there were all kinds of anti-military demonstrations in most of our big cities. Thank God, most local neighborhoods and smaller towns were patriotic and welcomed us with open arms.
Bonny Sandona about her husband, George
Like a lot of men, George never really talked about the war. I know he was a mechanic. He did say how freezing cold it was in Korea. While in the service, he made a lifetime friend from New Jersey who we visited in 1978. That first visit was unbelievable for them and very touching. A few years after that visit, the man and his wife came to Chicago to visit us. I know this isn’t a war story but it is a nice story. One story we would have to check on with Kathy Hamill is when her dad, Bill, and George were in a conversation at the Dolton Elks. The two were talking about their both having served in Korea. It turned out they were on the same ship, then of course Bill became a Spaghetti-O.
Kathy Hamill, about her dad, Bill
I hope these stories bring home to you the broad range of experiences our troops have during their time in the service. Some make major sacrifices and others make lesser sacrifices. But all of them could have been at home with the families were it not for their dedication to our country. Always keep our service personnel and veterans in mind, especially on this Wednesday, November 11, Veterans Day.
Roselandites who have bought my book are very excited to have their memories brought to life. Copies of “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” are available at $20 + $4 s&h by contacting me.
Contact me at: CJ Martello, 11403 S. Saint Lawrence Ave., Chicago, IL 60628; res. tel: 773-701-6756; or firstname.lastname@example.org.