Paul Franzoso, veteran

His parents passed through Ellis Island as part of the swell of Italian immigrants to the U. S. in the early 20th century, and settled in an area of New Jersey called the Lost Valley.

Though his parents were poor, they raised eight children – one of whom was adopted because his father couldn’t bear the thought of sending a neighbor’s child to an orphanage.

They foraged for wild asparagus along the banks of the Raritan River, and ate mostly simple meals of vegetables, beans and pasta.

When he was in his late teens, he helped build a railroad as part of a WPA program, and saw the West for his first and only time. (He later told his captivated grandson that while in Coal Canyon, he killed a “rattler” with a spade.)

He and five of his brothers were sent to war in Europe.

He was made a demolition specialist, and combed beaches before landing craft arrived – his job was to disable or destroy landmines.

He saw Italy, his ancestral homeland, which he pronounced “Itly” when recounting the very few war stories he told.

He made it through, and got a job working at an asbestos-insulation factory in his hometown, Manville, NJ.

He married a local Polish girl, and raised three kids in a house that he and his brothers built with no blueprints.

He was kept awake by terrifying war nightmares. Sometimes he would even scream out in the night, and wake his children.

He rarely raised his voice, and preferred to eat his dinner in silence.

He was incredibly kind and gentle, and donated as much of his money he could to people that were more needy then he.

He grew tomatoes, green beans, and zucchini in his garden, and taught his grandkids to never be afraid of bees.

He drank Shafer out of a can, but no one ever reported seeing him drunk or even tipsy.

He bought his first brand-new car in his mid-fifties, a Ford Fairmont, which still runs fine.

He developed Parkinson’s disease in his early sixties, and quietly waited while his body became useless.

His family tried their best to stay positive about his condition, but by the time he reached his late sixties, he was completely confined to a wheelchair, and his voice – already soft – was reduced to little more than a barely coherent mumble.

His family often patted his hair, kissed his forehead, and told him that they love him.

One time when one of his grandsons snuck him a scotch, he whispered, “You’re my favorite,” which meant the world to the boy.

He died in 1998, and received military honors at his burial.

After he died, he visited his grandson – the one who snuck him the scotch – in a dream to tell him never to be afraid to die because the other side is much better.

14 responses to “Paul Franzoso, veteran”

  1. Beth W says:

    A beautiful tribute.

  2. ruben mancillas says:

    thanks you.

    my grandfather served in WWII and would be proud to see something like this written about him.

    he died just before i was born but i hope i would have been cool enough to bring him a scotch too.

  3. cynthia says:

    This is a wonderful tribute. He reminds me a lot of my grandfather who also was a WWII vet. I had many wonderful years knowning him ,until he passed away when I was 22. I know he would smile at this piece. He would tell many stories when I was young about the war and the many different things he did after the war.

  4. Tim Wager says:

    Oh, Scotty, you really got me with this one. Thanks for sharing the photos and memories.

  5. Dave says:

    Yeah, thanks, Scotty. This was a delight — the words, the pictures, the whole tone of the piece.

  6. Jeremy says:

    Aw, this is making me all weepy right in the middle of a crowded coffeeshop… (stop staring, people–what, you’ve never seen a grown man cry in public before?). I love this.

  7. Eric Jones says:

    Years ago, I read most of Stephen Ambrose’s WWII histories and was really affected by stories about men such as your grandfather (stories that were a major factor in my joining the National Guard). Thanks for the simple, elegant reminder.

  8. Jen says:

    Scotty, this is the best story ever!

  9. LT says:

    My dear, I am hoping that your grandfather and mine are hanging out in the beyond drinking Schaefer beer out of cans and sharing war stories with each other.

  10. Scotty says:

    Thank you to everyone for all the kind words. I am ambivalent about this kind of post, and about the idea of making myself a little vulnerable as well.

    But you’ve all been very kind, and I hope that this story gave some of you a reason to take a moment to reflect upon anyone — veteran or not — that is no longer in your life. Also, I hope that those who didn’t have to work today had a really nice, and peaceful holiday.

  11. AW says:

    Amen to everything everyone else has said. It is a fitting tribute to your grandfather–and others like him. I support you being vulnerable as often as you like!

  12. julie the ping pong queen says:

    well yes teary eyed typing. so beautiful Scott.
    You were a good grandson. I love how you kept this piece just on him but with each word there is you the lineage of him.
    I am so sad to see his generation leave this earth. Their sense of time, of the land, the charity to the less blessed while staying private and plodding. With them may die prejudice but also the heart of which our country was built on.

  13. Marleyfan says:

    I really liked the tenderness you portray with your grandfather; he would be proud! Both of my grandfathers had given me a special nickname, and I smiled to myself as this post made me think about them…

  14. autumn says:

    “you’re my favourite.” sweet words indeed. (wipe tears)