My dad, Francis Louis Ligouri (on the right in uniform) joined the New York Fighting Irish 69th Brigade during World War II. It was a big honor to get in, especially because he was Italian, not Irish! (He was an ROTC Rifleman who won nearly every shooting competition in NY, which is why recruiters looked the other way.)
Dad was in Ft. McClellan, Alabama when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. I have a telegram to his mom where he casually lets her know his furlough is cancelled and says, “No reason for alarm mom.” But there was cause for great alarm: rapid deployment had to be carried out instantly. His unit was sent to guard B-17’s in Inglewood, CA. He arrived by train on December 22, 1941 and during that week, while hitchhiking to his base, unbelievably, the famous comedian Red Skelton picked him up! They became fast friends. (Red thought my dad looked like Jimmy Stewart.)
Red learned that my dad had orders for Hawaii soon thereafter. With his emotions at fever pitch about our nation at war and losing sons, Red invited my dad to accompany him and his wife Edna along with Lana Turner (as a blind date) to New Year’s Eve festivities at the Hollywood Palladium to hear Tommy Dorsey. That’s my dad opposite Lana and next to Edna, Red’s wife. Lana looks so young and innocent yet she was already a big star.
Dad flew B-24 bombers in Europe for the duration of the war where he was awarded many medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross. The Army Air Corp usually pulled bombardiers out after 20 missions, due to increased likelihood of death and also high stress. However he flew 30 successful missions and always suffered guilt that he survived while so many did not. He never got into a plane again after WWII; he’d become terrified to fly.
But that changed when my first baby arrived Jan. 4, 1982. I was in Los Angeles while my parents were in Baltimore. He consented to fly again for the first time since the war, I knew he was afraid. So I called the airline and explained that my dad would be experiencing severe nerves due to his war experiences. I asked the customer service rep to please notify the flight attendants to look out for him during the flight. Well, they did a lot more than that.
After everyone was seated and the plane was aloft, the pilot announced, “We have a WWII hero on board and the last time he looked out an airplane window, he had quite a different view. It was all flak and rockets aimed at him and seeing brave souls being shot from the sky. Today we’re going to give him a nice beautiful ride”. The pilot went on to name him and his seat. The stewardesses knew about the announcement and were standing front and back of my dad’s seat to point him out. The whole plane stood in applause.
Interestingly, the greatest generation never spoke of their war struggles. It was only after he passed that I found his medals, war diaries, and photos. After that, my pride in him grew even more.
P.S. Dad never heard from Lana, of course, and never tried, although he and Red corresponded for years until Red’s death.