U.S. Army WWII Shorewood, IL Flight date: 08/08/18
By Bob Pomorski, Honor Flight Chicago Veteran Interviews Volunteer
At age 98, John Caruso still drives to church each week, goes bowling with the family, and mows his lawn. The man who came to the United States from Italy at age 13, truly is American Made.
When John was a young boy growing up in the Abruzzo region of Italy, his father had already made several trips to the U.S. to carve out a better life for his family. John’s father was a go-getter, being self-employed as a scissor grinder amongst other things. Seeing the value of owning real estate, he also bought apartment buildings while residing in the Joliet, IL area.
When John was 13 years old, his father summoned the family to come to America. Along with his mother and two sisters, he arrived in the States unable to speak English. Upon his arrival, John attended school for a few years before going to work to help support the family.
John sold newspapers on a street corner making 50 cents a day. On one cold, blustery day, John met the legendary sports announcer Harry Caray who was working at the local radio station in Joliet. It was so cold outside that John was the only one working that day. “He had to buy a paper from me; I was the only crazy one out there.”
When John was 21 years old, he was working construction at the local ammunitions plant, which is now the site of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. It was 1941, and the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. Most of the men working in the plant were born in Europe and wanted to know, “who this Pearl Harbor lady was.” John learned quickly what had happened. After only nine years of living in the U.S., John was drafted into the U.S. Army in April 1942.
After completing Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, John was selected to go to North Africa because he was fluent in Italian. Remember,Italy was part of the Axis Powers along with Germany and Japan and the U.S. was battling German and Italian military forces in North Africa. He was stationed in Algiers for over a year. While there his unit was responsible for processing prisoners of war. Half the men in his company were fluent in Italian and the other half in German.
John’s next transfer was to Italy. After the Allies drove the enemy out of Sicily, John and his unit were sent there to process more prisoners of war. He spent roughly a year in Italy which gave him the opportunity to visit Rome and the Vatican. After the liberation of Marseille, France by the Allies, John was sent there to process even more prisoners of war. He spent the next 13 months in France before being sent back home for his honorable discharge in 1945.
Throughout his tenure in the Army, John spent more time overseas than in the U.S. For his efforts, John received the European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Bronze Service Arrowhead, and five Overseas Service Bars. Each Overseas Service Bar represented six months of active service overseas.
After the Army, John went back home to the Joliet area where he got a job at U.S. Steel. He worked there in a number of roles including tool & die maker. Being mechanically inclined, John was a natural at fixing the nail machines in the plant. He worked at the plant for 35 years until it shut down, coinciding with his retirement.
Along the way, Jon married the love of his life, Elda. As John puts it, “I knew her before she was born.” Elda also grew up in the Joliet area, and the two families were friends. In fact, John and Elda’s older brother were very close friends. In a surprising twist of fate, Elda’s brother, who was also in the Army during World War II, lost his life during the war in Europe. John was planning to meet his long-time friend in France until tragedy prevented the reunion. Talking about it today, John still gets teary eyed at the loss of his friend.
John and Elda have been married for over 70 years now, and still joke about the old times. They have three children, seven grandchildren, and almost 10 great-grandchildren whom they gush over. John laughs when he says all the great-grandchildren are under eight years old.
Today, John stays active by gardening, mowing the lawn, bowling, reading books, and being with family. He was an avid golfer for many, many years, but finally put the clubs away. Family is what is most important to John, and he is excited about the upcoming Honor Flight to D.C. He said it was strange that the day of his trip, August 8, was also his mother’s birthday, who lived till she was 99. That will make the trip even more special.
The boy who grew up in Italy, served his new country proud as a man. For that, we thank you for your service to the country and enjoy your much-deserved Honor Flight trip.