Kathy Manos Penn is a native of the “Big Apple,” who settled in the “Peach City” – Atlanta. A former English teacher now happily retired from a corporate career in communications, she writes a weekly column for the Dunwoody Crier. Read her blogs and purchase her book, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday” on her website theinkpenn.com.
I've had the honor of meeting quite a few veterans around Dunwoody. My husband and I bump into them at Memorial and Veterans Day celebrations, the July 4th Parade, the poppy giveaways at the grocery, and just out and about.
Perhaps because my Greek grandfather immigrated to the US and then fought for us in WWI, I was intrigued when I heard that veteran Dominic Giovinazzo had immigrated to the US as a child and then returned to Europe to fight in WWII. With my curiosity aroused, I sat down with Dominic to get "the rest of the story," and what a story it is.
Dominic's father came to America ahead of his wife and children, and Dominic was seven when the rest of the family left Portigliola, Italy to join his father in Ohio. There he started first grade without knowing a word of English. Skip ahead to his being drafted into the Army shortly after graduating high school, shipping off to England in 1944, and several months after D-Day, landing at Omaha Beach.
As he recounted his WWII experience, I asked, "What's your most vivid memory?" His response? "How lucky I am." Every one of his stories includes an example of that luck.
He sees the Battle of Moncourt Woods as the first instance of his good fortune. He can still see the bullets flying into the saplings around him as he dug a foxhole with a partner and dove in. His partner landed on top of him and was hit with shrapnel, but Dominic emerged unscathed.
Soon after, he fought in the Lorraine Campaign. Again, as he advanced through an open field against German tanks, shells fell behind and in front of him, but not on him. And then came the Battle of the Bulge. The last major German offensive of WWII, it was one that caught the Allied forces off guard and the one in which our American troops suffered their highest casualties of any operation in the war.
Picture Dominic on Christmas Eve, newly assigned to be a bazooka man, out in the open on a snow covered hill firing at enemy tanks-again escaping unmarked. Early Christmas morning, caught behind enemy lines, he was leading his men up another snow covered hill when a group of Germans started down the same hill. As yet more proof of his good luck, he describes hitting the ground with his men and surviving the close encounter unnoticed.
His final stroke of luck, he says, came during his days as a POW after capture in Saarlautren. Over 68 days, the POWS marched close to 600 miles. Though he lost twenty pounds and was constantly cold, hungry, and in need of a shower, Dominic feels lucky that he was neither tortured nor harshly treated. On day 68, the POWS awoke to find all but one of their guards gone and the 13th Armored Division, known as the Black Cats, there to liberate them.
Back in the states, Dominic went to Kent State and Ohio State on the GI Bill and earned a degree in Industrial Engineering. He married Ellie, the petite Greek girl he met on a blind date, and went on to raise two daughters and have a successful career with GE. After his 1982 retirement, he and Ellie moved to Dunwoody to be near their daughter Cindy.
They've been married 61 years, and I couldn't stop smiling when Ellie said her sweet husband always brings her flowers or takes her to dinner on December 10th, the day of their blind date. I'd say they're both lucky in love.
Dominic's story seems a fitting reminder as we look forward to celebrating July 4 -a reminder that the Greatest Generation and so many others cherish(ed) our American way of life. Many made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve it. Many continue to defend it.
How does this 95-year-old father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and patriot wrap up his tale of service to his country and a life well lived? "I give my blessings every day that my father came to America." May his heartfelt words inspire us all to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in this great country.