The note arrived from a stranger named Don Gould of Fall River, Massachusetts.
“I am in possession of a letter written many years ago by, I believe, your father,” he wrote. He had found it going through his mother’s effects after her death and had no clue how she had come to possess it. He tracked me down through an online search. My first thought was this Mr. Gould was a long-lost half brother, but that was not the case.
Attached were two immaculately preserved sheets of onion-skin carbon paper, filled to the outer margins with dense black type and my father’s name at the end. The letter, dated December 1, 1943, was dispatched from “somewhere in Italy,” and addressed to “My Dear Mr. & Mrs. Gregson.” Its purpose was evident from the opening sentence.
“I’ve been a long time writing this, first because I wanted letters from the War Department to precede this one, and secondly because I just didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean.”
What followed was a vivid account of my father’s friendship with the Gregsons’ son John, a fellow officer tapped to take part in the “Big Show,” the Allies' first amphibious landing in Europe nine months before D-Day. “From the time we left Camp Stewart, and during our stay in North Africa, we became close friends,” my father wrote. The two men from Western Pennsylvania “chummed around continuously … sharing the same tent and the same room on the ship” that would transport them from Tripoli to the heel of Italy’s coast in early September, 1943, part of what the Army would call Operation Avalanche.
The voyage “was very pleasant,” my father wrote the Gregsons. “We realized what might be in store, but our spirits remained high and no thoughts of danger ever entered the picture. It was more or less a fatalistic attitude.”