My papa loved to fish. “Son, if it’s overcast and chilly at dawn, the fish’ll be biting. Sure bet for a big steelhead or rainbow. Pure good eatin’” After a steaming cuppa fresh joe, I grab my gear…
This week I was with our new World War I Centennial Commission for their first meeting. They’re planning for how our state will commemorate the anniversary of the war and honor the thousands of Rhode Islanders who served.
On occasions like this I often find myself thinking about my grandfather, Pietro, who served in World War I. I knew him as ‘Pop.’ He meant the world to me.
After his father died, Pop left Italy and came to America — alone — at 14 years old. He eventually made his way to family members in Providence and became a cook in a restaurant on Federal Hill using skills he learned while he was on the boat to America.
But when the war broke out, Pop put everything on hold. He had only been in this country a few years, but he immediately volunteered to serve. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and went to Europe.
He didn’t often speak about the war, but I do recall him telling stories of some of the terrible conditions he endured. He talked about being stuck in trenches and feeling the rats crawling around him.
Pop believed so strongly in stepping up to do your part — though military service, community service, or public service. For him, it was about making a contribution. That’s something I’ve always carried with me.
As a kid, I remember if any of us were lounging around, he would literally say, “Get up, and do something for your country.”
Of course, there was a bit of a lightheartedness in his words. What Pop was really saying was: Make yourself useful. Sweep the floor. Help your mom. Clean your room. Make a contribution.
A photo of Pop in his military uniform still hangs in my old childhood bedroom at my mom’s house. When I look at it, I think of the courage, dedication and selflessness of my Pop and all of our veterans.
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