If you had come for a visit to our place on Staten Island in 1941 you would have found a happy home and a close-knit, loving family. Sadly, Daddy had passed on and Charlie was temporarily in upstate New York, but Bill and Frank had taken on the job of supporting all of us, Mom kept the house spotless and made sure there was always good food on the table, and I, too young for much else, ran errands and kept up the backyard.
And we had friends too — such good friends, and so many of them. Brook Street was more like a country village than a city neighborhood. We all knew each other, and any time a little help was needed it was there.
Then came World War II.
Bill was in uniform by early 1942, and Frank left soon afterward. Our already thin finances took such a bad hit that Mom had no choice but to move to a cheaper rental in another neighborhood.
Mom had met Harry Johnson, who — though I didn’t know it yet — was destined to become Pop Johnson. He helped us make the move to the new place and get settled in as winter approached. However, he too answered the call of duty when his oil tanker put to sea and sailed for the Gulf of Mexico.
Thank God Mom and I didn’t know what a small chance he had of returning!
Civilians weren’t told this at the time, but knowing what I know now I am everlastingly grateful that he made it back. That year, 122 non-combatant ships on the East Coast or in the Gulf were sunk by U-Boats — and 55 of them were tankers!
Mom and I found ourselves alone in a tall brick apartment building. The only thing we had to show for the rest of our family was a small red, white, and blue Service Banner hanging in a front window with three stars on it.
I was only 10 when we moved, so I soon made a few friends in our new neighborhood; and it happened that my old school — PS-16 — was just close enough so that I didn’t have to change schools. However, even though she did her best not to show it, I could see that Mom was lonely and worried.
At last, in mid-1943, Harry Johnson returned, still able to work, but with a game leg that made him ineligible for sea duty. He and Mom married and we moved to New London, his hometown, where we rented a great place at 220 Huntington Street.
The war, however, raged on. It sometimes seemed to me that it would never end; and even when it did end two years later, the waiting for my brothers to come home dragged on and on.
Then, one wonderful summer day in 1945, Charlie came strolling home up Huntington Street as I watched out the living room window. And later that same year, when Bill arrived home from Iwo Jima, it was the first time I’d ever seen Mom cry; but her tears were tears of joy, ones she repeated when Frank arrived home six months later.
At last! We were a family again.
Bill never spoke about Iwo Jima, nor did Frank say much about the high losses his engineering battalion had taken laying pontoon bridges across rivers for Patton’s tanks.
They’re all gone now, but I can wait; someday soon we’ll all be back together again.