September 29, 1979

September 29th in the year 1979 was a Saturday. I know that because that afternoon, at the C.W. Post Interfaith Chapel, Susan Johnson became Susan Johnson D’Elia, and my life changed forever! The story of how we ended up there started years before, but really got guidance a little over 2 years earlier, on the afternoon of July 3rd, 1977, when both Susie and I were guests at an early July 4th party in the back yard of Mary Ann and Bill Epperhart’s house in Oyster Bay. Sue knew Mary Ann as they both worked at Glen Cove Hospital as Registered Nurses, and Bill and I had been friends since we met years earlier at WCWP, The College Radio Station of C.W. Post College. There’s that CW Post connection again!

So, to continue our story, let’s go all the way back to the fall of 1967, when as a 17 high school graduate, I started as a commuter freshman at C.W. Post College. I wasn’t a great student, and really had no idea where I was going in life, which is why in short order I was a Theater Arts major, an English Major, a Philosophy Major, and a Political Science major, before finally settling on being a Music Major. Along the way, thanks to a class I had to take, I got involved at the college radio station, and as stories like to say, “the rest is history.”

Meanwhile, the young lady I was going to make my wife 43 years ago today, knew she wanted to be a nurse practically from the moment she was born it seems. Her early life lead up to it with Candy Striper and other volunteer jobs, and working at Nursing Homes, until finally after graduating from high school, she enrolled in the Pilgrim State Hospital School of Nursing on her way to getting her RN. There was lots of hands on learning at the hospital, but for their academic classes they were bused to C.W. Post College, and there’s that connection again!

As Susie is 2 years younger than I am, after meeting we discovered that we’d both been at Post at the same time! After 4 years of college, I graduated in the Spring of 1971, while Susie graduated from the 3 year program at Pilgrim in 1972. While we’d never met, nor to the best of our knowledge had we ever seen each other, the real possibility exists that during those couple of years that we both walked on the Brookville Campus, we might have passed each other, and that was our C.W. Post connection!

So, after that July 3rd, 1977 party, Susie and I were definitely an item. I think the description “Love at First Sight” could indeed be applied to us, and it only took me getting my permanent job at ABC Radio for me to take the leap, and on Christmas Day, 1978 ask her to marry me! In case you’re wondering, she said yes, and the planning began! The first hurdle was where to get married. Susie was raised a Protestant and I a Catholic. The question was how could we honor both of our families’ history, and answer was very easy for us….The Interfaith Chapel at C.W. Post! It was a lovely building, in a beautiful setting, on the college campus we’d both traveled while in school! Connection complete!

On the afternoon of Saturday September 29, 1979, at the Interfaith Chapel, with a Catholic Priest and a Protestant Minister officiating, in front of our family and friends, we joined two lives into one, and this great adventure we’ve had the past 43 years started! My life has been blessed every single day since then, because this wonderful lady is my lover, my best friend, my teacher, really, my EVERYTHING! Thanks for saying “I Do” 43 years ago today, I thank God every night for bringing you into my life! I love you more each day, and will love you forever and here’s to another 43 years of love together!!!

HAPPY 43rd ANNIVERSARY TO THE LOVE OF MY LIFE!

FYI..unlike the usual occurrence in this blog, Susan Johnson D’Elia did zero proof reading on today’s story. Any and all mistakes are exclusively the fault of yours truly.

September 11th Remembered

I first wrote this blog several years after the 9/11 Attacks, and over the past 21 years, I have revised and republished it several times. The following is my latest revision of our personal memories of that day we’d all really rather forget, when our world changed forever.

Anyone who was just about anywhere in the New York Metropolitan area on the morning of September 11, 2001, will always remember that day, and where they were. I know in our family that’s the case. My wife Sue was at work at Hampton Street School in Mineola. Our oldest son Billy was in his second year at Ithaca College, and his brother and sister, Krissi and Kenny, were sophomores at Mineola High School. I was at work at WABC Radio, 17 floors above Penn Station.

I remember it was a great looking, if uneventful, September morning. There was just a touch of fall in the air – it was one of those special kinds of days we get after the humidity of summer leaves. I was, as usual, on the 7:24 LIRR train from Mineola to Penn Station. Just before the train entered the tunnel under the East River to take us from Queens to Manhattan, we got our usual view of the Manhattan Skyline. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Twin Towers…they were all there. As I said, a totally uneventful September morning in all respects….but that was soon to change.

Shortly after the first plane hit at 8:46 AM, word started to come into the newsroom that a plane had hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower. It was primary day in New York, and there were reporters around the city for the various TV morning shows. Almost immediately, Dick Oliver of Channel 5 went on the air from Park Row, just outside of City Hall. They weren’t the best shots, but you definitely could see the fire and damage to the tower. Everyone assumed that it was a small plane that had hit and no one could understand how someone could have missed seeing a structure as big as the World Trade Center on a beautiful, clear morning. There was speculation of a student pilot, or someone who had a heart attack – just about anything but what had really happened, which up until that point was unthinkable to most of us.

By 9 o’clock, better pictures of the damage were available on TV, including long shots of the buildings from further uptown. Just before 9:03 AM, I was standing in studio 17E next to Chief Engineer Kevin Plumb, when we noticed a plane flying into the frame of the shot. Assuming we were looking at a small plane trying to get a better view of what was happening, one of us commented, “what the heck is that plane trying to do?” At 9:03 we were shocked when we saw that plane (which we later found out was a Boeing 767) crash into the South Tower and explode in a ball of flames. At the same moment, Susie was standing in the Teacher’s Lounge of Hampton Street School, next to a good friend, Midge McInnes. When that second plane hit, Midge lost her brother who worked in the tower at just about the level the plane hit. In that moment, everyone who saw that happen live, knew that life as we had known it up until that moment was over, and that there was a brand new reality.

I remember all hell breaking loose at the station as we all went into high gear. There was an incredible amount of misinformation flying around, and frankly, open fear from some. Many tried to act professionally, but since no one knew exactly what was going on, and since we were all working 17 floors above Penn Station and a couple of blocks west of the Empire State Building, we frankly wondered if we might be in the target zone for future attacks. The next hour was a blur of news reports, discussion and speculation. Shortly after the first plane hit, our morning anchor George Weber took off downtown armed with a cell phone and a recorder. He phoned in a couple of reports about what he was seeing, but as the cell phone system overloaded, we stopped hearing from him. Then at 9:59 AM, the South Tower collapsed. Faces stared at the TV pictures, and as a group, were almost unable to fathom what we’d seen. Less than 30 minutes later the North Tower collapsed, and these twin buildings, which were so identified with the skyline of New York City, were incredibly gone, along with close to 3,000 of our fellow New Yorkers.

So many questions hit us all at once…who would do this, how did it happen, how could these two huge buildings collapse, and one that was on all our minds at WABC, where was George Weber? The news reports continued, but with all the confusion it was hard to tell what was true and what wasn’t. Were there more hijacked planes out there, and had other attacks taken place in Washington and elsewhere around the country? Getting a landline phone call was very hard; cell service was pretty non-existent, communications among families and friends was almost impossible. It was over an hour later when we heard from George. He’d walked for blocks from the WTC site and had waited on a line at a pay phone before he was finally able to check in with the station. Okay, we knew one of our friends and coworkers was alive…but what about everyone else.

WABC’s 2001 9/11 Montage

The day dragged on, and we watched TV as they tried to figure out what had happened, and what was happening. One of the hardest tasks of the day was getting in touch with friends and family, finding out if they were okay, and assuring them that I was fine. The first response of the city was to shut down, and a lot of us wondered if we’d get home. Being above Penn Station, we kept looking down at the crowds milling around a closed Penn Station. We also kept looking a couple of blocks to the east at the Empire State Building and realizing it was once again the tallest building in New York!

Later that day, the Long Island Rail Road started running and those of us from Long Island headed downstairs, and like every other commuter that day, got on any train as long are it was leaving New York City! As the packed standing room only train came out of the tunnel into Queens, everyone looked to the south where the twin towers of the World Trade Center had been on the way in that morning, but now were replaced by smoke. It was very quiet in the train as everyone realized that those two buildings we’d seen every day on our commute into Manhattan were gone, along with all the folks who were working in them.

The days after September 11th were very strange to say the least. The fact that there were absolutely no planes in the sky made for a very eerie quiet that was very unlike the norm, especially for us living in Mineola, which could alternately be in the flight path to either LaGuardia or JFK Airports. I know that for weeks after the planes started flying again, every time one flew over I would find myself stopping and looking at it. Taking the LIRR into the city in the days after September 11th was also different. There was an uneasy quiet on the trains, that I guess came from a lot of folks who would rather be somewhere else, but who had responsibilities and had to do what they were doing. I remember not seeing people that had been regulars on our trains, and wondering if they were in the towers when they came down, or were they perhaps too scared to venture into Manhattan again. Questions I’d never have the answers to….

One thing that made the post 9/11 strangeness livable was the feeling that we were all in it together. There were American flags on houses, cars, businesses…virtually everywhere! Our Boy Scout Troop did a huge drive to get some of the supplies that the rescue workers at Ground Zero needed, and we had great response. People were friendlier to each other and more respectful…even politicians! From New York City to Washington, the political discourse had a united front. We weren’t Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives, we were Americans. There was no finger pointing, just everyone shouldering the load and helping to move forward. If every cloud has to have a silver lining, that was September 11th’s.

Too bad that 21 years later, so many seem to have forgotten. There’s no way that anyone who lived through that day will not be thinking today about their experiences, about all the New Yorkers who are no longer with us and about how the rest of us pulled together as a team. On that day, 2,750 people lost their lives when the World Trade Center was attacked. Members of our Mineola Community were among the 455 of those victims who were fellow Long Islanders. Within the 2,750 victims that day were 415 who were emergency workers in New York City, who responded to the World Trade Center.  They included 343 firefighters from the New York City Fire Department, 37 police officers with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department, 8 emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private emergency medical services, 3 New York State Court Officers, 1 Patrolman from the New York Fire Patrol, and 1 Special Agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

For months after 9/11, there were important people in our lives that we never saw, because we had friends and neighbors who worked around the clock for months on “the pile” looking for remains of the 2,750 victims of the attack. Today, I’ll also be thinking about my friends who were involved after the towers came down. People like NYPD ESU Officer Scott Strauss who pulled the last survivor out of the rubble, or PAPD Detective Don McMahon, who’s partner sped towards the Towers from JFK airport that morning just after the first plane hit, and who was the first PAPD Officer to die that day. Donnie then spent the next 6 months at the on site morgue, working to identify remains of the victims when they were found. We’ll also be thinking today of the many Firemen we know, both NYFD and others who spent so many hours on the pile digging, without regard for their own personal safety, and sadly several we know are paying the price with their health today. We Thank God that there are so many people among us who run towards trouble as the rest of us run away! As we remember 9/11, and the days, weeks, and months afterward, we thank you for your service and for your friendship and for setting an example for the rest of us.

In the fall of 2004, our youngest son Kenny started as a freshman at the Manhattan Campus of Pace University, which was located just across from New York’s City Hall. Members of the senior class who worked orientation, told us stories of what 9/11 was like for them, just days into their freshman semester at Pace. Kenny’s 4 college years were virtually spent at Ground Zero. In his second year, he lived in an apartment just behind the heavily damaged Deutsche Bank Building. As a Junior he lived in an apartment on John Street, just up the street from the South Street Seaport. The truth is that for years after, the neighborhood was an ongoing demolition/construction site, and frankly nobody wanted to live there, which is why college students (or their parents) could afford the rent. There were so many visible reminders of that horrible day, every time we drove through the neighborhood, around detours, and looked at the remains of the destroyed buildings. Remember that in addition to the North and South Towers, other builds lost due to the attack were 7 World Trade Center, Manhattan Community College’s Fireman Hall, 5 World Trade Center, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Marriott World Trade Center, US Customs Building, The Deutsche Bank Building, and several others. It took years for the area to appear “normal” again.

But as we remember 9/11 today, I know we live in a better world because people like Scott and Donnie are a part of it. As we remember those who died 21 years ago, I hope we will all also remember the heroes of September 11th. Friends, neighbors, family members, and people whose names we will never know, who stepped up on that horrible day. Ordinary folks who did extrodinary things, and renewed our faith in our fellow human beings. That’s the lesson I try to take from that horrible day 21 years ago. Yes indeed, 9/11/2001 was very personal to us!

FDIII – 9/11/2015

WABC’s 2002 9/11 Montage put together for the first anniversary

A Moment in Time

Have you ever had one of those moments in your life that whatever your actions were, affected the rest of your life? Today is one of those days in the lives of Susie and myself. You see, it was 45 years ago today that Susie and I met, and I can honestly say it was love at first sight!

Back in the Summer of 1977, NABET was in the middle of a 5 and a half month strike against ABC. Rather than running the board on the 8th floor of the ABC Building for WABC and WPLJ, I was picketing 3 days a week for 3 hours at a time. Thankfully, I was a 27 year old single guy, so not going through the financial peril a lot of the older married folks were suffering through. It was a sad, kind of poor summer, but I did have lots more free time than I normally would., and that’s why I was able to accept an invitation to a Fourth of July backyard Bar-b-cue on Sunday July 3rd!

The party was given by my friend Bill Epperhart and his wife Maryanne. I met Bill when we both worked at the CW Post College Radio Station, WCWP, and now Bill worked at WNBC. Bill’s wife Maryanne was a Registered Nurse at the Glen Cove Community Hospital, as was the the young lady I met that day, Susan Lynn Johnson, RN! Turns out that Susie had called in sick that day to attend the party, and many years later we found out from Maryanne that getting us together was the main inspiration for the party!

I’m very happy to say that it worked! We were thrown together at the party when I helped Susie light some fireworks she’d brought back from a visit to her Great Aunt in North Carolina, and as I said before, it was really Love at First Sight! The following weekend we went out on our first real date, and at the Dynasty Chinese restaurant in Roslyn, my fortune cookie said, “You Will Marry Your Current Lover and Be Happy”. 45 Years later, the fortune cookie is still correct!!

Happy Anniversary baby! I L Y J T W Y A then, now, and forever!! XO XO XO XO XO XO

Finding An Old Friend

Ten years ago, when Billy and Lori got married, Susie and Krissi, in preparation for the wedding had a manicure and a pedicure. They didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a tradition of long standing in our lives that came to be called “Nail Night!”

Late afternoon, every other Wednesday after work, my two ladies would go to see Kim at Best Nails on Second Street in Mineola and have their nails done. This continued even after we’d sold the Mineola house and made Ocean City our permanent home. When it started, Krissi was working in a cardiologist’s office by the train station in Mineola and living home. It continued as she still worked and went to CW Post for her Master’s of Public Administration degree. It was still a thing when she stopped living at home, and moved to Astoria, and she commuted via the Long Island Rail Road after she got her MPA, and started working at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.

It just so happened that separated from Best Nails by an alley, was the St. James Restaurant. While Mom and Krissi went and had their nails done, Dad held down a seat at the St. James’s Bar and waited for the girls. When they were done, we’d all have a drink at the bar, and then get a table in the restaurant and Dad would buy dinner. In fact, the St. James and Nail Night was the place we first met Michael shortly after he and Krissi started dating (she actually left him alone with me that first night), and for the rest of the time, every Nail Night, Mike and I joined the bar crowd at St. James waiting for our girls to show!

And quite a crowd it was! There were Doctors and other staff from Winthrop hospital just down the street, there were folks stopping for a shot or two on their way home from the train station, there was Ed who was a local Judge, and as Mineola is the seat of the Nassau County Government, there were lawyers, like Glenn the real estate lawyer, who actually handled the selling of our Mineola house for us! It was an interesting mix of folks who lived and worked in the neighborhood, with lots of regulars. It was a great location, and a good bar, but the real reason that these folks gathered at the bar of the St. James was the man behind the bar, Dennis Sweeney!

Dennis had been a commodity trader on Wall Street, who just had enough. His brother owned a bar and restaurant, and Dennis had done his fair share of time behind the bar, so he knew his way around. As he told us, it was a better life, with none of the pressure and the BS of his former life. I know we were very happy he made that decision, as were the rest of the St. James regulars! When Krissi worked at that local Doctor’s office next to the Mineola Train Station, she and her co-workers would often stop in, as did her Mom and Dad on days other than Nail Night, sometimes just for a drink with Dennis! Dennis was the father of two daughters, and we knew that he would watch out for Krissi, and in fact, when Mike started hanging around with us, Dennis gave Krissi a thumbs up on her new boyfriend!

Unfortunately, after years of having the same owner, new owners bought the St. James, and things started changing. Menu items that had been popular for years were re-worked, often times missing the mark in the opinion of regulars. The new owners wanted a new “vibe” and started to mess with personnel and the atmosphere. Gradually, the place felt less like Cheers and more like a sleazy sports bar, with too many TVs and too loud music! If their intention was to chase away the regulars, they were doing a good job!

Eventually, our Nail Nights ended, as we spent more and more of our time in OC and had less and less desire to be on Long Island. Eventually we heard that Dennis had less and less desire to be behind the bar at the St. James, and he moved on. We were sad, but totally understood! The last time we were in the St. James was 3 years ago on the weekend that Krissi and Mike got married. We were doing the rounds of Mineola, and in an effort to re-create those early Nail Nights with Mike, we went back to St. James for a drink. We found that without Dennis behind the bar, the bar that you had trouble finding a seat at back in the day, was now deserted! (Don’t get me started on why people buy a popular restaurant/bar and then change things and drive away the regulars!)

So turn the clock forward to the end of May, when we ran into a former neighbor who had been a fill-in bartender at the St. James. Turns out he knew that Dennis had moved on to Leo’s in Garden City, the next town south of Mineola and just blocks away from the St, James. With this new information, Susie and I resolved to stop in and see Dennis the next time we were on Long Island, and we did exactly that!

We got two seats at the end of the bar, and there was Dennis at the other end. As he walked towards us, he realized it was us, put a big smile on his face, and we had a wonderful reunion! We talked about our respective families and what was happening in everybody’s lives, and of course, we had two Grey Gooses Vodkas…shaken, cold, served up with a twist, with the marinated ice on the side! It was great to see him again, and reconnect with an old friend! Susie and I love the relationships we have in life with bartenders, waitresses, and waiters, and we were very happy to once again see this man, who we’d literary spent hours with over the years! As always, it’s the people that make a place special, at least that’s what we think!

Turning Back the Hands of Time

This recent Memorial Day, Susie and I did something we haven’t done for years. In a very real sense, we Turned Back the Hands of Time! Let me give you a little background….

In August of 1986, Susie, Billy, and I moved to our new (to us) house at 40 Fairfield Avenue in Mineola, NY. About 3 months later, our family of 3 morphed into a family of 5 when Billy’s sister and brother Krissi and Kenny were born. For the next 31 years, we called 40 Fairfield our home and the Village of Mineola the place where we lived. When Billy was in first grade, he along with several of his school friends wanted to join Cub Scouts, so off we went to Cub Pack 246 that met at Mineola’s First Presbyterian Church. Billy’s friend John’s Dad, Andy McInnes, volunteered to be Cubmaster, and as I remembered my great experiences being a Boy Scout, I volunteered to help in anyway I could, and I became the Pack Treasurer. Starting that first year, in May of 1987, Billy and I joined Pack 246 and marched in the Mineola Memorial Day Parade. For the next 28 years, with and/or without our sons Billy and Kenny, I continued to march in that parade…first with Cub Pack 246, and eventually with Mineola’s Boy Scout Troop 45.

Whatever happened on that year’s Memorial Day Weekend, marching in Mineola’s Parade was a given. In the early years, we’d go to see fireworks at Bar Beach in the Town of North Hempstead on Friday night, and then many times head down to the Jersey Shore for Saturday and Sunday, and then head back to Long Island for the parade. Starting in 2005, when we bought the house in Ocean City, NJ our routine changed. Now instead of Fireworks on Friday, we’d head down to Ocean City, and spend the weekend at our house with our Ocean City friends! Some weekends we had kids and their friends with us, and some weekends we were alone, but every year, we’d set an alarm for 5 AM on Monday, throw clothes on, and head up the Garden State Parkway, to Long Island and our parade.

In 1998, our good friend Steve Grosskopf became the Scoutmaster of Troop 45 (I talked him into taking the job), and starting that first May, we gathered at their house and he fed the boys breakfast with the help of his wife Pat and my wife Sue. Eventually the breakfast morphed into an after-parade gathering for the Scouts and the families of the Troop at their house, and we were always there! We’d arrive home about 9 AM, I’d change into my Scout uniform, Susie would get herself ready, and we’d head over to Pat and Steve’s house for the parade. After we all headed off to the start of the parade, Susie and Pat would settle on the house’s front porch, and watch the parade pass by, yelling their support for the Boy Scout contingent!

It was a tradition of long standing, that continued through 2015! Then something changed… I retired from WABC in January of 2016, and now since I was no longer working, there was no reason not to extend our celebration of Memorial Day at the shore. It was very strange for us, that something that had been a part of our family’s life since 1987 was no longer there. It only got stranger when we sold the Mineola house in 2017, and now we really had no connection with the village! We might not have been there for the parade, but it was still a part of me, and every Memorial Day, my Facebook posts were filled with pictures of the Scouts of Troop 45 carrying flags and marching in Mineola’s parade!

So since that first May in 2016, our Memorial Day Weekends have been centered in Ocean City, but we have fondly remembered our time in Mineola, our friends in Troop 45, and years and years of parade participation. For six years that was our MO, but not this year. This year, we grabbed that clock and turned back the hands of time, proving once again that you can go home!

What is different? Well, our friend Steve Grosskopf announced that he was in his last year of being the Scoutmaster of Troop 45. 24 years of work and dedication, and of making Troop 45 one of, if not the best Boy Scout Troop on Long Island, had not been easy, but Steve had done it, and now it was time for him to pass the torch to the next generation. A couple of weeks ago, I got a crazy idea, and one day I shared it with Susie. “You know, we were there for Steve’s first parade, what do you think about being there for his last?” Susie liked the idea, and for the next week or so we batted around the idea. We really wanted to be there for our dear friends Pat and Steve, but wondered if we’d feel out of place and would we know anybody? After all, the last time we’d been there for the parade was 7 years ago in 2015! On Sunday afternoon, I sent him this text message, “Just checking in with you…How are you doing? Are you all set for the parade?” His answer to that text took away any doubt we might have had. “All good thanks! I know this will be my last one, so it is bittersweet. Wish you guys were here having cocktails on the porch.” Game On!

On Sunday we picked out the clothes we were going to wear, made sure our overnight “to go” bag was fully packed, and filled the car with gas. A shower before and an early bed time, and we were ready to go! The alarm woke us at 5:15 Memorial Day morning, and by 6:25 we were backing out of the garage and on our way to the Garden State Parkway! The trip back to Mineola is just under a hundred and 20 miles, and since we were on the road early, traffic was not an issue. The parade was scheduled to start at 11 AM, and we were in great shape time wise. At about 9:15, we rolled down Westbury Avenue, and parked the car around the corner from their house!

Activity was already in full parade mode as we walked up to the house, with Scouts and Adult Leaders gathering flags, and preparing for the after-parade party. As we came around the corner, and walked up to the front of their house, Steve came off the front porch, looked at us, and said, “Oh My God…what are you two doing here?!” We exchanged hugs and told him, “We were here for your first one, no way we were missing your last one!” Mission Accomplished! Pat was equally surprised when she came downstairs, but thrilled that we were going to be there for the day! She insisted that we spend the night, and we gladly agreed.

As the 11 AM hour got near, Steve and the Troop moved over to the parade starting point around the corner, and Susie, Pat, and I settled in on their front porch. Something new for me this year…for the first time since we first marched in 1987, I was going to see the parade, and what better place to see it, than Patrice and Steve Grosskopf’s front porch, a location on which the 4 of us had spent many, many enjoyable hours over the past 20 years they’ve owned the house! Promptly at 11 AM, the parade set off from Mineola’s Wilson Park, rounded the corner of Union Street and Westbury Avenue, and sailed by our front row seats! Lots of memories and lots of folks we recognized from our 31 years in Mineola, and we enjoyed all the groups from the Boy Scouts to the Mineola High School Mustang Marching Band (which all 3 of our kids were members of), and from the Mineola Fire Dept to the Portuguese Dancers and their castanets, and everybody else!

The parade route is 1.8 miles through the village, ending at Mineola’s Memorial Park for a brief service of remembrance and placing of wreaths. Steve was the MC for the event (I wrote his speech), and from all accounts it was a brief but meaningful reminder what the day was all about. Just after 12 noon, the Troop started to arrive back at the Grosskopf’s house for what has become a Troop 45 Tradition over the years, the Troop’s Memorial Day Parade after-party! The men of the Troop immediately went to work grilling hamburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst, while the boys changed out of uniforms and into proper attire for the pool and games. Troop Families showed up, and a great time was had by all!

Susie and I looked at each other several times during the afternoon, and commented about how the 7 intervening years since we’d last been in Mineola for a Memorial Day seemed to melt away, and how easy it was to fall back into old routines. A lot of the people we knew over the years are not still involved, but the folks of Troop 45 are always like family..old or new. We were welcomed back and made to feel at home, and were so glad we were there for Pat and Steve, and Steve’s last Memorial Day as Scoutmaster. All in all, it was a great plan, and worked out perfectly! As TR used to say, “BULLY!!!!”

Susie’s Birthday – May 28th, 2022

Another Surprise…this cake was presented to Susie by our friends Sue and Bob at Charlie’s last Tuesday!

I have been blessed to spend 44 birthdays with Susan Lynn Johnson D’Elia since the day I met her at a barbecue on July 3rd, 1977, and 42 of those birthdays since she traded a simple last name like Johnson, for an often mispronounced or misspelled one, D’Elia. We have been at each other’s side raising 3 kids, buying houses and cars, sending the 3 kids off to college, watching them get married, through work and play, adding 3 great grandkids to the family, and through us both retiring. Now I am the lucky one who gets to spend 24 hours of every day with my best friend, the love of my life, and the lady who puts me ahead of her, in everything she does. I’m sorry, but I can’t say that I was “lucky” to have her come in my life, I have always used the term “blessed” believing that some higher power ordained us to spend our life together! To me, we are a “Match Made in Heaven” and the perfect example to prove that “Love at First Sight” does indeed happen!

Last week, four of our six kids surprised her for her special birthday. On Wednesday night, after 10 o’clock, our son Kenny and his husband Chris walked into the house, having just flown up from St Pete, Florida and being picked up at the airport by our friend Sue Waniak. That was surprise number one. On Thursday night, the four of us went to Angelo’s in Atlantic City, as is our normal course of action. That was the place for surprise two, as Susie walked into the bar and saw Kenny’s twin sister Krissi sitting at the bar along with her husband Mike, who Susie thought was going to be on a business trip to Oregon! Unfortunately, our oldest son Bill and his wife Lori couldn’t join the group, as Bill, in the last months of his MBA program at the University of North Carolina was in Iceland as a part of a special class.

Let me let Susie tell you about Friday….The following is from Susie’s Facebook post….

“So…day #3 of Birthday surprises from my family! I was told to dress ”cute casual” and be ready at 11 AM today! We all made our own sandwiches and the cooler was packed!
At 11AM we ventured outside to a tie-dyed van! “DaySippers!” We were off for a 6 hour adventure! First a Winery for tastings and purchases! Next to a Brewery for Beer Flights and our sandwiches. Throw in a few games of Shuffleboard and a lot of laughs! Our last stop was a Distillery for some delicious cocktails! Tonight’s dinner will be Pizza and Ice Cream for dessert….my 2 favorite foods!

It has been a fabulous surprise Birthday celebration, well planned by my loving family!
I’m a Lucky Girl!😊❤️”

There were special cookies, bottles of Vodka with her picture on it, and lots of love and fun, as is only right for someone who loves her kids and their spouses as much as my Susie does!

So Susie Q, on this May 28, 2022 I’m here to tell you once again, that my life started the day I met you, so as far as I’m concerned this is your 44th Birthday! Have a great day as you remember our life together and all the fun, joy and love we’ve shared and that our 3 kids and 3 grandkids have brought us. My life is the best, mainly because you’re in it!!

ILYJTWYA now and forever baby!

PS – Frank D’Elia is totally responsible for the contents of this blog, as it was prepared, and published without the knowledge (or the proofing) of his partner in crime, and the love of his life!!

The Shoe Will Be On The Other Foot

If you have followed along on our adventure, you probably already know what I am about to tell you, but for those who may have forgotten or not read those blogs, let me recap.

For a number of years, I had very bad knees. Arthritis, combined with weight, and maybe even some damage from when I jogged when Susie and I were first married (yes I did jog daily when we lived in Port Washington), combined with other factors to make my knees not happy. I went to an Orthopaedic Doctor on Long Island, but it was not till we officially moved to Ocean City in 2017 that I started getting serious about my knees. We found Dr. Zabinski at Shore Orthopaedic, just across the bridge in Somers Point. In November of 2018, we started the process with X-rays, and we set up an appointment for knee injections. That’s when Susie and I started on our low carb regime to lose weight for the surgery, and I started getting alternating Chicken Fat and Steroid shots in both knees (and if you’ve never experienced that, boy is it fun!) Then on July 11, 2019, I had my left knee replaced at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point. The pandemic screwed up my schedule, and it was not until September 14 of last year, that I had my right knee replaced, also by Dr. Zabinski at Shore.

I impressed many (even myself) in the way I recovered from these two joint replacement surgeries, healing and getting back to normal in record time. Now, some 5 months after the second surgery, I am feeling incredibly better, having absolutely no trouble standing, walking, sleeping or doing any of the activities my knees were preventing me from enjoying. I am pain free, and I joke, bionic and doing great. Of course, one of the major factors in these joint replacements, was my partner in this life, and the woman who has been taking care of me for over 42 years, my wife Susan Lynn Johnson D’Elia, Retired Registered Nurse, Mom, and all around great lady! For the first 5 days post-op, ice on for 20 minutes, off for 40, elevating the knee for 22 hours a day, sleeping on the couch while I slept in the recliner, or feeding me everything I wanted in the days post surgery, she was there at every turn! Well, now the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s my turn to play nurse!

In less than two weeks, on Tuesday, March 1st, Susie is scheduled to have her hip replaced by Dr. Zabinski. This has been an ongoing thing she has suffered through for a number of years, and had several cortisone injections to the hip (the needle wasn’t pretty…i was there…it was about 8 inches long!) But she decided that I should get my second knee replaced before her hip. That way she figured that I would totally be able to take care of her when she was recuperating. From what the Doctor, our Physical Therapist Grady, and every other source you can look at on the internet says, the hip is easier to rehab from than the knee. Dr. Zabinski is also going through the front, rather than the rear, and that too makes it easier as the muscle isn’t cut. Like mine, she will be in the hospital in the morning and home that afternoon/evening. We don’t know yet if I will have to stay away like she did when I had my second knee done, or if I will be allowed back in to be with her pre and post surgery. Time will tell!

She’s passed all the pre-surgery tests so far with flying colors, with her last one being a Covid test that will happen next week, five days before surgery. As we are fully inoculated and boosted, and we’ve been very careful for some time, we don’t expect any issues with that either. As he did with my knees, Dr. Zabinski has her on a regime of vitamins pre and post surgery, and the only variable is ME, post surgery! I will do my best to help her through the first difficult week, but I am no excuse for her ability and her temperament. I will also be a pain in the ass, I am sure, because in some ways Susie is a lousy patient, never wanting anyone else to do things for her! That won’t change in the next couple of weeks, but I will do my best to do what she needs, when she needs it, without her resistance! The ice on and off will be a part of that first week, as will sleeping on the recliner and couch, but we will switch places. I know I won’t be as good at anything as she was, but I will do my best! She already has a list of meals that she wants post surgery, so that at least I know I can pull off with a certain level of competence that will be acceptable!

So there you have it! The bionic transition of Sue and Frank D’Elia continues! Jaime Sommers and Steve Austin got nothing on us! See you on our post surgery walks Ocean City!

Little Christmas

Today is January 6th, 2022.  January 6th marks the Feast of the Epiphany, or the day that the Three Wise Men paid their visit to the Christ Child.  January 6th is also known as Little Christmas, and like many across the world, it is the day in our house that the celebration of Christmas ends.  After the 6th, the outside lights get turned off, and the tree and decorations get put away for another year.  As today is Little Christmas, it will also be the last post on this blog having to do with our Christmas holiday.  

For today’s blog, I’d like to tell a story about one of the most familiar symbols of Christmas, The Christmas Tree.  According to Wikipedia, “Sources have offered a connection between the first documented Christmas trees in Alsace around 1600 and pre-Christian traditions. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmas time.”

Susie and I are never happier in the beginning of the Christmas season, then when we see our first Christmas Tree tied to the roof of a car, and never sadder than when we see our first undecorated, discarded Christmas Tree on the side of the road. 

My story today goes back many years, to the first Christmas in 1968 after my folks and I moved from Jackson Heights to Bayside…..

I grew up in a four room, 4th floor walk-up (that means no elevator) apartment in Jackson Heights, a highly urbanized area of Queens.  Jackson Heights is serviced by the very nearby #7 elevated subway line, which was literally just outside our windows.  When we moved in early 1968 to a single family house in Bayside Hills, it was like we’d gone from the city to the country.  Still a part of Queens county, Bayside is one of the most eastern areas of the county, and was one of the places we used to do Sunday drives to when I was a kid.  On those days we said we were going on a drive to “the country,” and now we lived here!!

In Jackson Heights, when you bought a Christmas Tree, you got it from in front of the local A&P, or from a random guy set up on empty lot.  In Bayside, when you bought a tree, you went to Kiel Brother’s Nursery and chose one from their section of hand-picked trees.  That first Christmas Tree in December of 1968 was a beauty, and a central part of our first Christmas in our new home.  It served us well before and during the Christmas season, but as we approached Little Christmas, it was time for it to go!

My Mom had read something about what to do with your tree when you were done with it in your house.  Perhaps based on that Scandinavian tradition, she’d read that you should stick it in your backyard, and “decorate” it for the birds that had not gone south for the winter.  Things like seed pods, peanut butter, suet,  and other things that could give the birds stuck in the north substance when the ground was snow covered.  As this was the first year in my folks 20+ years of married life that they had a backyard, I guess she was feeling “countrified” in our new home.

Only problem was that almost the day after we got the tree out of the house, it snowed…a lot!  This left the D’Elia Family Christmas Tree buried deep in snow.  It stayed buried for the next couple of months, as snow storms kept coming with incredible regularity.  We really didn’t see it again till almost Spring thaw.  By that time, my Mom had lost her desire to set the tree up, and honestly the need was probably almost non-existent.  Rather than “decorate” the tree for the birds, it went out to the curb to wait for the garbage men to pick it up.  Picking up trees in late December and early January is I’m sure a pretty common thing for New York City garbage men, but I always wondered what they thought that day in March when they picked up our very dead Christmas Tree!

So, on Little Christmas, as we end our Christmas celebration, Susie and I, and our whole family hope that you can keep the light and joy of the Christmas season in your life, until it’s time for Christmas, 2022!   See you again, next year Christmas!

Another Day Older, and Deeper in Debt

Ah Christmastime…As Andy Williams and many other singers tell us yearly, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! And it is…. This time of year is always a wonderful time to make memories, and to reflect on those memories years later. Here’s some that easily come to my mind!

Susie and I met in July of 1977, and right from our first Christmas together that December, I knew that she loved Christmas. That’s why, a year later when I had a permanent job at ABC, on Christmas Day of 1978, I managed to get her alone upstairs at my folks house in Bayside, and I asked Susie if she’d marry me, and then ran through the house, telling all that would listen, “She said yes!!!” That’s probably my best Christmas memory! Happy 43rd Anniversary of the day you said “Yes” Baby!

Unless Christmas Eve was on a Sunday, my folks always had to do at least one performance at the Metropolitan Opera. When I was small, after they’d gotten home from a show on Christmas Eve, was their time to do the tree, and set up presents and stockings. When I got older, we developed a habit of having Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches, and cheap champagne (them when I was younger, all of us as I reached my teens), while we opened Christmas presents. This made it easier for my folks to sleep in a bit on Christmas day, rather than have me wake them up at 6 AM! Because we’d started this years ago, Christmas Eve was always a day we celebrated with our version of the 7 fishes and then cold cut sandwiches at midnight. The Christmas Eve of 1979, Susie and I had only been married a couple of months, so that night, after I’d worked at WABC, we went to my folks house in Bayside for our traditional Christmas Eve. We left very late at night (really early in the morning) and headed home to our apartment in the Manorhaven section of Port Washington. Tired and wanting to be in our own house, we were happy to park in front of the small 4 apartment building we called home. The great memory of our first Christmas Eve together was not being with my folks, or the microwave oven they gave us for Christmas, but rather the fact that the front door of the building, which had never been locked and which we didn’t have a key for, was indeed locked! A great memory of our first Christmas Eve together (we eventually did get in after our banging woke up another tenant)! Christmas Eve is still an important day for our family. We no longer open presents on Christmas Eve, but we have traditions that we do every year! So for us, Christmas is a two day celebration. Christmas is the time for traditions!

Christmas of 1982 held many great memories, because our oldest Bill was less than two months old. Not that he knew what was going on, but first time Parents and Grandparents enjoyed it that year! The next year was also a great Christmas, but for entirely different reasons. My Dad suddenly died just 10 days before Christmas of 1983. It’s hard when you lose your Dad when you are 33 years old, and was sad for my Mom as they’d spent 35 Christmases as husband and wife, but now Billy was 1 year old, and had a little grasp of what Christmas was. I think the entire family concentrated on him, and while we had every reason to be sad, we weren’t, and had a great Christmas. The Miracle of Christmas?

Christmas of 1986 found us in our new home in Mineola, and our family expanded to five from three. Krissi and Kenny were born six weeks premature on November 20th, and our fervent wish was that our entire family would be together for Christmas. Krissi spent 18 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Kenny spent 28 days in the NICU. Kenny had a little stocking ornament on his incubator that said, “Home for Christmas.” Our prayers were answered that year, and on Christmas morning ,our two little bundles of joy joined their older brother Billy for Christmas in our Mineola house! Our family was complete! By the way, Kenny still has that ornament!

So many wonderful memories of Christmases as the kids were growing and getting older. Memories of doing Christmas Eve dinner at my Mom’s or at our house with Susie’s folks, of having a leisurely dinner till the last minute, when suddenly the clock had run out, and we had to dash out of the house because we couldn’t be late to the kid’s Christmas Pageant at Church, and then the Service of the Carols. Then memories of coming home, of the kids getting into their jammies, and then the whole family continuing my Mom and Dad’s tradition of Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches and cheap champagne, and of watching Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation. As the kids got older, we even made it to the end of Christmas Vacation! Then they’d go to bed, and the real work started! Putting together presents that needed to be assembled, pulling Toys R Us tags off items that were going into their stockings (Santa didn’t shop at Toys R Us!), getting to bed way too late, and then getting up way too early! Of making the kids wait at the top of the stairs till Dad went down and made sure the house was all set up for Christmas morning. Then there was wrapping paper everywhere, and suddenly it was time to all get dressed so we could head to Susie’s folks or her sister Barbara’s house for Christmas, or getting the house cleaned up because the whole family was coming to our house! They were crazy, exhausting Christmases, where we operated with all together too little sleep and too much to do, but I wouldn’t change a thing about them! They are all the wonderful memories that live in your heart when you get older!

Let me leave you with one more memory that means a lot to us and our kids. The first year we were married, Susie found these leaded glass toasting flutes at Sterns Department Store. They have been a part of every one of our Christmases over the last 42 years. This year, through the magic of Ebay, I was able to find enough of them for sale that we just were able to send a set to every one of our kids and their spouses, plus have enough so that when we are all together, we will have them too! It’s our hope that this year Bill and Lori, Krissi and Mike, and Kenny and Chris will all toast Christmas the same way their Mom and Dad have for all their married life, and that they will have as great a life and memories of Christmases as we do!

So yes, perhaps another day older and deeper in debt, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the money in the world! May you and yours have a joyous Christmas, spent with family and friends that are like family, and make new memories that will warm your heart on Christmas for years to come! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

This is the Army and the Story of the Box

On the occasion of last month’s celebration of Veterans’ Day, I posted on Facebook a couple of pictures of my Dad in World War II, performing in Irving Berlin’s all soldier show, This is the Army. I’m going to use this blog today to expand a bit on that post, and to also tell you a story that was a staple of my childhood, that today has a different ending than it did when I was a kid. Let’s start at the beginning…

My Dad, Frank Vincent D’Elia (so no…I’m not legitimately a third as I don’t have a middle name), was born on October 5th, 1910, on the lower east side of Manhattan. He was one of 13 kids in a typical big Italian family, and like many kids of his generation, never went to High School because he had to go out into the world and earn money to help support his family. My father was different from many folks in those days though, in that his chosen profession was to be an opera singer. (One of the questions I wished I’d asked my Dad when he was still with us was, “Why an Opera Singer?”) Jobs were hard enough to find, but finding a job as an opera singer was even harder.

From stories I heard growing up, like many performers, my Dad had many jobs that did not involve singing. From selling pretzels in the park to being a messenger for a Wall Street firm, to acting as “secretary” to his voice teacher, Madame Novelli, he did what he had to do! Long story short, that’s why he was very happy when he got to audition for, and then was offered a job in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the Germans and the Japanese were edging the world towards war and this would impact my father’s life in a very large way.

Sometime in that first year of being a member of the Met chorus, he got his draft notice! After years of struggling and scraping by while supporting his family, he was finally at the point where he had a regular job, and now the US Army was going to change all that. He went to his draft board, looking to get an extension so that he could at least complete the season before reporting for duty. Ultimately, they did give him that extension, so he finished out his first season at the Met, and then went off to the army. (If you read the blog post, My Dad and His Family then you know the whole Draft Board story, if not, here’s a link https://rnewadventures.com/2020/10/06/my-dad-and-his-family/)

After kicking around at Fort Dix for a couple of weeks, my Dad was sure that he’d be sent off to some area where his background and experience would have no use to him. That’s why he was very surprised to be assigned to Camp Upton, in Yaphank on Long Island, to audition for Irving Berlin and his all soldier show, “This is the Army.” He passed the audition and joined the cast that included Broadway actors, movie stars, musicians from famous orchestras, and one singer from the Metropolitan Opera! For most of my childhood we’d be watching a movie or TV show, and my Dad would point out one of his “army buddies” that he’d traveled the world with in the show.

After rehearsals, the show opened at New York’s Broadway Theater (the same theater that gave us Mikey Mouse’s debut in Steamboat Willie) on July 4th of 1942, and was expected to run for 4 weeks. It was such a success that the run was extended several times, and eventually it ran to the end of September of that year. Since the show was loved by so many, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who saw it 3 times and wanted her husband the President to see it too, next up for the company was a National Tour, with all ticket sales going to Army Relief. Washington was their first stop with a special Presidential Matinee scheduled at Washington’s National Theater. The day after that performance, the entire company of This is the Army was invited to the White House to meet President Roosevelt, where festivities lasted late into the night! Another story I’d heard when I was a kid! When the National Tour ended in February 1943,This is the Army had earned $2,000,000 for the Army Relief Fund.

The next stop for the TITA company was Hollywood. Warner Brothers had offered $250,000 for the film rights of the show, and like the profits from the National Tour, this was donated to the Army, and the entire company spent 6 months in Hollywood making the Warner Brothers movie, “This is the Army.” Although, for the purpose of the movie, a sub plot was added that enabled Warner Brothers to include movie stars like Ronald Reagan (the only one of the “stars” who was in the service as an Army Lieutenant), George Murphy, Alan Hale, Sr., and several others. The musical numbers from the show were still intact and the performers in those numbers were still the soldiers. A camp for the 359 members of the company was set up near the Warner Brothers lot (with heated tents built by the Warner Brothers Prop Department), and each day, the company would march from their camp to the movie studio. As well as shooting the movie, the singers, dancers, and musicians all participated in regular army drills, as befitting soldiers in the US Army.

My Dad is the soldier on the far right

The real reason for the making of the movie was to raise funds for Army Relief, and towards that end, it was an unqualified success. It earned $9,555,586.44, which Warner Brother’s donated to the Army Relief Fund.

After their American performances, the company was reduced to a cast of 150 men, including my Dad. Their next assignment was to be shipped off to England, and play around the country for 3 months, but prior to that, they returned to Camp Upton on Long Island to re-stage the show taking into account the reduced cast. On October 21st, the company sailed for Liverpool aboard the Monarch of Bermuda. After 10 days of very crowded conditions, sailing in the dangerous North Atlantic, their convoy reached its destination. This is the Army played in London for Royalty and for American and Allied troops, and then embarked on a tour around Great Britain. On February 6, 1944, they returned to London and performed for General Eisenhower. At this point the cast thought they had reached the end of the road, and the show would be disbanded, and they’d all be sent off to regular Army units. However, after seeing the show, General Eisenhower thought that it would be a great moral tool for his troops, and requested from Washington that the show play to Troops at the front.

General Eisenhower’s request was granted, and a week later the This is the Army Company sailed for Algiers. This was to be the the first stop on their tour that would take the company around the world, and not end till October of 1945 in Hawaii, almost 2 months after the September Japanese surrender! Rather than performing for Army Relief Drives or heads of states, now they would chase the front, and perform for the soldiers actually fighting the war! Some of the places they performed were regal, and some just a thrown together stage in the jungle, and their audiences were now groups of soldiers who had just come out of combat and who would be heading right back into it after the show.

TITA Posters, The Original Cast Album, and pictures of Irving Berlin

After 2 weeks performing in North Africa, they sailed for Naples, Italy. In Naples they were billeted in the partially destroyed palace of Victor Emmanuel, and that’s where the story of The Box starts. This was not my father’s first visit to Naples. Back in the 30s, he had sailed from New York to Naples with his voice teacher Madame Novelli. Madame Novelli was originally from Naples, and they stayed with her family for several months while visiting . Among the members of the family was a young man about my Dad’s age, and the two of them became fast friends. Turn the clock ahead to 1944 and the American liberation of Naples. As soon as the “This is the Army” company got to Naples, my Dad looked for his old friends and found them living at the same address he’d visited as a young man. The war years had not been kind to his Italian friends, and my father did all he could to get them food and other supplies that they’d been without for years. One of the benefits of this was that my Dad got to eat with the family, and had home cooked Italian meals for the first time in several years. From my Dad’s stories, simple ingredients like SPAM in the right Italian hands could be turned into gourmet food, so this Italian kid from New York truly enjoyed his meals with his Italian friends!

The royal palace in Naples had been German headquarters in the city, and as such was a favorite target of the allied bombings. My Father would tell stories of sleeping in incredibly opulent surroundings with bomb blasted holes in the roof. The doors at the palace were about 10 feet tall and decorated with intricately carved and painted 4 inch by 10 inch panels. In a typical GI move, my Father pried one of these panels off the door as a souvenir. He told his friend about this and even took it with him to dinner one night to show the family. His friend said that he knew a wood carver and how would my father like it if he could get him to carve a box to match the panel, and use the panel as the lid? My Father liked that idea, and a plan was hatched. About a week later at dinner, his friend showed him the box. The wood carver had done an excellent job of matching the lid, and the carving was exquisite. All that was left was to paint the box to match the lid, and my father’s souvenir would be completed. He left them that night and promised to be back for dinner in 2 nights, and in turn, he was promised that the box would be ready for him to take. As they say, best laid plans.

On the afternoon of the second day, the “This is the Army” company was ordered to load their trucks and be ready to leave Naples within 45 minutes. The Allied forces were continuing up the Italian boot and their show was needed closer to the front lines to entertain the troops. There was no time to get to his friend’s house and no way to tell them what was happening, so that was the last of his stay in Naples, and of the carved box.

That happened in 1944 and was but a brief episode in all the escapades of the This is the Army troop, as they continued through Europe and eventually island hopped in the Pacific theater too.

So now turn the clock forward to the summer of 1971. I’ve just graduated from college and we’ve planned a 4 week trip through Europe. It starts at the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany where we picked up a new Ford Capri. We traveled through Germany, Switzerland and down one side of the Italian boot and up the other side. I very distinctly remember the day we got to Naples. After getting situated in the hotel room, my Dad went down to the lobby and found a phone book. He looked up the last name of his friend’s family and found a listing at the exact same address they’d lived at when he first met them in the 1930s. My Father placed a call and when a young lady answered, he explained who he was and asked for his friend by name. She said that he was looking for her Grandfather and that she’d get him. In a few minutes his friend, who he hadn’t seen or talked to in over 25 years, came to the phone. He couldn’t believe that this voice from his past was on the phone and was in Naples. One of the first thing he said to my Dad that day was, “Frank…I’ve got your box!”

That happened 50 years ago this past July, and was the culmination of a story I’d heard my Father tell all my life. Now his story of “The Box,” the souvenir that got away, had a new, and almost impossible to believe ending! My Dad died in 1983, but I must admit that I have continued to tell the story, and I guess keep him and his “This is the Army” stories alive. My Father was a great story teller, and after growing up on so many of these stories, and then finally seeing the movie, I’ve always felt very connected to this time in my Father’s life.

Oh…and the box? Well, for many years it resided on my Mother’s coffee table in her living room in Bayside, as it had since we returned from Europe in 1971, and it completed its trip started in 1944! When my Mom died in 2011, the box moved to our dining room hutch in our Mineola home. When Susie and I moved to Ocean City permanently, and cleaned out the Mineola house, our youngest son (Kenny…the performer and spiritual heir to my Mom and Dad’s profession) asked if he could have the box. It’s traveled around the country with him and his husband Chris, and now lives in their St. Petersburg, Florida living room.  I hope it will always have a place of honor in our family, as a reminder of one of our family’s member of the Greatest Generation.

This is the Army was my Dad’s life for over three and a half years, and was how he fought the Second World War. My Dad made friends and had experiences that he talked about for the rest of his life. As well as entertaining thousands during the war, and making millions of dollars for Army Relief, This is the Army was America’s first integrated company in uniform! Up until I finally saw the movie at the Museum of Modern Art in the 70s, all I had were those stories of my Dad’s of this period of his life. Believe me, I heard lots of “This is the Army” stories growing up, but none of them was any more prominent that the story of “The Box!” His stories of This is the Army continued to be told for the rest of his life, especially every 5 years when the alumni of the company would get together for a reunion. Reunions my Dad relished going to until his death. Sadly, most of the folks that my Dad spent these years with are gone, and the reunions just a memory for those of us who heard our Dads talk about This is the Army.

Thanks Dad for your service!

One of the great sources that I had for filling in some of the TITA details was Alan Anderson’s book, “The Songwriter Goes to War.”

Here’s an excerpt from that book detailing a story my father often told about TITA in Italy – Click on the book cover below to open the passage…

Another excellent source for this period in Irving Berlin’s life, is a series of articles from the National Archives and Prologue Magazine. If you’d like to read more about this period of American History, here’s a link to the first part of the series on This is the Army.
https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1996/summer/irving-berlin-1.html

If you’d like to see the whole scene that the picture at the beginning of this blog is taken from, here’s a link https://youtu.be/G5xKrNeqqGY

If you’d like to see the whole movie, through the magic of the Internet, here’s a link to Irving Berlin’s, This is the Army https://youtu.be/1RYHowaXdFY