Editor’s note: This is the sixth essay in a 12-part Father’s Day series entitled, Honoring Fathers Who Serve. In May, we asked readers to submit essays about the men who have served our country.
My grandfather, Michele Cicora, arrived in this country on May 27, 1906, at the age of ten. He had travelled across the cold Atlantic Ocean with two younger sisters and a brother. The poverty of their region had caused them to leave their family in Campobasso, Italy. These frightened young children represented the hope and faith that a better life lay in a far off land. The small ship which they had sailed on, the Wiemar, would later be sunk by a German torpedo in the Mediterranean on February 15, 1918.
At Ellis Island they were met by representatives of their home region. They then boarded a train to Cleveland, Ohio. Eventually they settled into lives of work, school, church, and community. Although their immediate family remained in a now distant land, the local community of Italian immigrants took them into their fold and cared for them. Their newly adopted country had welcomed them in peace.
However, as the events of June 1914 erupted, Europe was led into the horrendous event then called the Great War. Eventually, the United States, in support of the Allied cause, entered the war. Young men across this land volunteered to fight in order to “make the world safe for democracy.” In June 1918, Michele Cicora became one of them. He was assigned to the 61st Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, in France.
As the long and costly war dragged on, combat on the Western Front had become increasingly lethal. In the six months of major U.S. combat operations in Europe, from the June 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood to November 11, 1918, more than 100,000 American soldiers were killed. Michele Cicora was wounded by a German machine gunner in early October 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which was highly instrumental in ending the war.
A month later the horrific atrocities of the Great War ended. At 11:00 AM, on November 11, 1918, the War to end all Wars ceased its carnage. After the armies of occupation had secured the peace, and some measure of order was restored throughout Europe, Michele returned to the USA and was separated in August 1919. Unfortunately, shortly after the birth of his first and only son, Sam, in 1923, Michele would pass away at the age of twenty-eight. In addition to the gunshot wound to his hand, Michele also likely suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. However, at that time, Veterans were not expected to demonstrate any type of residual emotional or psychological effects from their combat experiences. Treatment was largely unknown and immediate assimilation from the world’s first mechanized war to organized society was presumed to be the due course. His body was found in the Tennessee River. He would never know his son.
A generation later, the Great War would be renamed World War I, and many of the sons of those Veterans became soldiers, sailors, and airmen in World War II. Michele’s son, my father Sam, entered the U.S. Army in 1943. By early 1944, he was sailing toward Bombay, India. Upon arrival, a train across the Indian subcontinent took him to northeast India where he arrived as an infantryman assigned to the 5307th Composite Unit, then called Merrill’s Marauders. Following the month long Battle of Myitkyina, Burma, August 1944, the Marauder’s were disbanded as a unit. In its stead, the newly organized 475th Infantry Regiment was formed as part of the Mars Task Force. It was so named because they operated completely behind and around enemy Japanese lines in the thick Burmese jungle and the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. The 475th survived largely on air drops of supplies, which they frequently fought over with the enemy, and by bartering with native tribes for food. By early 1945 the 475th, and other elements of the Mars Task Force, had fought their way from northeast Burma into southwest China. Here they continued the offensive against the invading Japanese army while also training Chinese troops loyal to Chiang Kai-shek. The release of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 finally brought the bloody war in Asia to an end. Sam Cicora returned home with bayonet scars on his legs and malaria in his blood.
Sam returned home on January 1, 1946, to the best years of his life. His marriage to Ann produced three children, two sons and a daughter. He worked hard as a machinist and landscaper providing for his family. Until he passed away in 1988, he filled his house not only with love, but tolerance, compassion, and joy. In the long tradition of Italian-Americans who have patriotically supported their country through active military service, both of Sam’s sons volunteered for the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam. The oldest, Mike was with the 25th Division from October 1967 through 1968. I served with the 32nd Artillery from January 1970-1971.
My grandfather came to this beautiful country as a boy and placed his life literally ‘on the line’ defending its values and freedoms. He created a model of citizenship based upon direct action and support of his country. These are the values which he passed onto later generations of his family. They are the principles and ethics of sacrifice for family and community and have always held this nation together.
Daniel Cicora recently retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs Cleveland Regional Office. He continues to volunteer with Veterans and remains active in other community service. Daniel resides in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.