My grandfather, Carmine Ronzino, died in 1981, four years before I was born. Because of this, I never knew him, however I know a few things about him thanks to my parents and grandmother. I knew he was a Marine during World War II, and after the war he worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard building ships, but from what my parents tell me, Grandpa never spoke about the war unless it was silly stories of their off-duty escapades.
In, 2008, my grandmother, Maria, passed away. I was asked by my family to say something at her funeral. I had spent hours of thinking of what to say, but finally I wrote about her memories. After the funeral, I put it up on this blog under the title of Good Memories. In that post, I only mentioned Grandpa in passing. I wrote:
“If the conversation took the direction of war, she would tell how her father fought in the war [WWI], then talk about how Grandpa fought in the war [WWII].”
This was all I really knew about my grandfather, that he was a Marine in WWII. My parents remember him talking about one of his Marine buddies called “The Swede”.
A few days ago, I checked my blog’s comments, and I saw a new one on the Good Memories post. It was from a woman named Taci. She was helping her friend, Becky, look for information about some of Becky’s father’s old war buddies because she was making a book of her father’s WWII wartime journals for their friends and family. One of the buddies was named Carmine Ronzino. Taci told me that all she could find about Carmine was that he was married to a “Maria”. This took her to my blog where I briefly wrote about my grandfather being in the war. She asked if I was related to Carmine, or knew anything about him to contact Becky. So I did.
Becky and I have been in contact over the past few days. She told me that her father served in the Marines with my grandfather, and they were buddies in the war. Her father’s name is Duane “Swede” Nelson, and it’s the same man my grandfather mentioned when he spoke about his time in the war. Becky told me she found her father’s old war journals during his time in boot camp, Peleliu, Okinawa, and China. She emailed me a copy of the book, and it was, in turn, sent on to other members of the Ronzino family. For the last few days I’ve been reading through Swede’s journals, and I found myself in awe of what he wrote.
Here, on my computer screen was a direct account written by a soldier during the Battle of Peleliu, known as Operation Stalemate II. It was different than watching a movie or a documentary of WWII, this was a personal journal of events that took place during the battles as it happened. My grandfather, who’s nickname was “Roz” in the journals, was mentioned many times. As it turns out, he and Swede were in the heat of the fight against the Japanese together, and they watched as some of their buddies fell in battle. Becky told me in an email that her father said:
“Ronzino was a great guy and a good amo man. They worked together on the big gun alot.” My dad had the job of calculating where the gun would shoot and set the gun’s platform level for firing. Carmine was his amo person that loaded the gun with amo, hollered “fire” and then everyone ducked. He told me that Carmine was really Italian and had black hair. He said Carmine talked alot about his family.
When I read about Grandpa being “really Italian and had black hair”, I laughed. It’s funny because most of the pictures of Grandpa I’ve seen were of him later in life, when he had pure white hair. Hearing one of his war buddies tell me what he thought of Carmine brought a smile to my face.
Reading Swede’s journals gave me a new perspective on World War II, as well as on my grandfather. I now know why he never spoke about the war, I understand why he wanted to forget. In the war journals, Swede names many people that he knew, other war buddies, who died in battle. These were Carmine’s war buddies as well.
I’ve been really grateful to read Swede’s first-hand account of the war and of my grandfather. It gives me a new perspective on the Grandpa I never knew. And it’s all in thanks to his friend Swede, who beat him at bridge, and shot the gun Carmine loaded in the heat of battle. They were a part of the band of Marine brothers who fought for our freedom. Together they lived, together they fought, together they survived.