FRANKIE GOES TO ICELAND
First some background.
1941 everyone knew that the US was going to get involved in the big war that was going on in Europe and there was a strong suspicion about some moves that Japan was doing in the Pacific. Wisely Roosevelt got Congress to pass legislation to create a military Draft. The Draft required all men 21 to 35 years old to register. The men were to serve one year in the active military, then assigned to the reserves. They were chosen by a lottery. With the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor, Congress declared war against Japan and a few days later declared war against Germany and Italy. All men already in the army were frozen for the duration of the war, and without using the lottery the call for more men was accelerated. Frankie was 27 years old.
I remember that Sunday afternoon of December 7, 1941. I was in the front room of the house at 1609 Bergenline Avenue. Frankie and my Mother were sitting by the window talking. I don’t know what they were saying but I could sense that it was about Frankie being called up in the Draft. Go into my Mother’s head for a minute, and you can understand her fear. Remember, she lost three brothers in WWI. Will she lose her son too?
Well – the government went into full speed ahead and started calling up men to serve in the military. A lot more men could not wait for the draft and volunteered by the thousands. The advantage to volunteering was that you could choose which branch of the military – Army, Navy or Marines. Frankie chose not to volunteer. He was called up in a few weeks and after basic training was assigned to the Air Force Engineers. He had nothing to do with flying planes. His job was ground maintenance.
I don’t know how much later, but brother Nick was also called up. His work had something to do with the motor pool. So neither one of them wound up in the infantry.
We fast forward now to the photograph. My guess it is late April-early May 1942. Frankie has a furlough home before being sent overseas. I don’t remember how long the furlough was. I would guess a week or ten days. Then he was to report to some camp in Connecticut and wait to board a transport ship to wherever. But there is a problem. He is pulled out of the line of troops. I never found out why he alone was pulled out. I think it had something to do with he being born in Italy. My guess is that that ship was heading toward North Africa and those troops would come in contact with the Italian Army. That is where the first Americans were engaged in actual combat. Frankie never talked about it so I can not say for sure why he was taken off that transport. The good part of this situation was that while waiting for the next transport he got a couple of extra weekend passes back home.
He boarded the next transport not having any idea where he was going. After about ten days on the ocean cramped together with a thousand other men and zig-zagging across the ocean with destroyers looking out for German submarines the ship made a stop in Iceland. Frankie and a bunch of other men got off and the ship continued its journey.
Iceland was a nice safe place to be stationed. But it was also a very important location because cargo ships and troop ships crossed the Atlantic with the help of the air force and destroyers which were stationed there. Frankie spent two years in Iceland. Then sometime late June,1944 he was ordered to pack his gear for a nice boat ride. He thought he was going home. Instead he found himself in France just after D-Day on another airfield, but not as safe as Iceland.
A year in France and Germany surrenders and he is on another transport back to America. He gets a nice long furlough then back to his base to get ready to go to the Pacific and finish the war against Japan.Two Atom bombs are dropped on Japan and they surrender. Frankie and thousands of American troops are discharged and he is home for good.
I am fascinated with the “might have beens” of life. Frankie was away from home and he was alive and healthy. I often wonder what might have happened to him if they did not take him off that first transport. This is my brief story about my brother who I wanted to be just like him. I could write pages and pages about him. Enough for now.
Mike Carrielo was born and raised in Union City NJ, taught middle history and English for 30 years. He’s 89 now and lives in Dorset VT.