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June 8, 2012     Post-Gazette
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June 8, 2012

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"POST"GAZ'ET:I'E,J'UN E 8,-2012 .Page 1-3 Last week, I left off talking about the family during WWII. Uncle Gino was in the Army Air Force. Uncle Nick was in the Navy. Dad, who had opted to teach school during the day once the war started, was recruited by the OSS (the fore runner to today's CIA) to interrogate Italian war pris- oners who were being de- tained at locations on our BostOn Harbor islands and at the long-closed immigration station on Marginal Street in East Boston. He was allowed to bring along a recording secretary and chose Babbononno. Babbo- nonno could read and write in both Italian and English. And besides, Dad's Italian was like the name of the street: marginal. A couple of times a week, Dad and Babbononno would schedule in interrogations that included the newest detainees housed as pri- soners of war. What I remember from conversa- tions at the dinner table was the requests many of them had, "I have family in Chi- cago, or New York, or New Orleans, or San Francisco ... could you contact them and let them know I'm a prisoner of war locked up in Boston." It seems that almost all had relatives in the U.S. and just about all were happy to be out of the fighting. None had any animosity regarding America. It got to the point that Dad put most of the pris- oners into a trustee category and had a work release program that he and Bab- bononno established with several merchants in East Boston. At one time there was a push cart section of Porter Street between Cen- tral Square and the Sumner Tunnel. Several of the pris- oners with their prisoner of war uniforms on, sold pro- duce just like they may have done back in Italy. The one stipulation was that they had to return to their as- signed bases at an appointed time. In other words, they had a curfew. Just to jump ahead a bit, many of those who didn't have families back in Italy petitioned to stay in America after the war was over and as a result, the populations of East Boston, the North End, the West End and a couple of surrounding communities increased in population after the middle of 1943. At that point, Italy surrendered to n 00N'anna 00Babb'00onno by John Christoforo A Nostalgic Remembrance Left to Right: Uncle Gino, Uncle Nick, Morn, Uncle Paul Kneeling: Dad. the Americans forces com- ing through Rome and changed sides joining the allies to fight the Nazi and Fascist forces. Dad had a never ending schedule. He taught ma- chine shop and shop math at East Boston High School during the earlier part of the day and followed his love of football by becoming the as- sistant coach for the EBHS football team beginning in 1942. If you combine this with his OSS activities and playing music just about ev- ery night of the week, you might get an idea of what type of a work ethic I grew up with. During the middle of the war, Dad left the Jimmy McHale band and the Hotel Vendome. There was a fail- ing out that I'm not sure about, but it involved just about all of the musicians and the band broke up leav- ing McHale having to reor- ganize to keep the job. Dad auditioned for a band leader who was hired to front the relief band at the Bradford Roof. The Bradford was a hotel located across the Met- ropolitan Theater (today's Wang Center). They had an indoor/outdoor roof garden restaurant that featured a society orchestra six nights a week and was now supple- menting it with a Latin orchestra. Johnny Rosado, a Nuyorican band leader arrived in Boston with the nucleus of a band and re- cruited the rest of the nec- essary musicians from the Boston union. Dad became the bass player and in effect, became a pioneer in Latin music in Boston. For a short period, Uncle Nick was in the band. On the night of November 28, 1942, as they were leaving the hotel to head home, they both commented on the smell that permeated the streets of that part of the city. Dad had thought it might have been from the Angell Memorial Hospital, a refuge for animals that was located nearby. What they discovered by investigating was that the famous night- club, The Coconut Grove, had burned down and the smell was burned flesh and hair. It seems that the once speak easy-turned night club had several problems. The capacity was 500, but on the 28 t, there were about 1,000 people inside, includ- ing many BC students cel- ebrating a football win. The main door was a revolving door and the secondary exits opened inward. When the fire started, the people pan- icked and were jammed in and trapped inside the main exit. The attempt to open the other doors resulted in piles of bodies stacked up. Those who didn't die from burns, succumbed to lung problems from the burning materials and lacquered wood that gave off noxious fumes. Among the victims was cowboy star Buck Jones. Dad and Uncle Nick headed to the scene of the fire, but there was nothing they could do. After the orchestra found it impos- sible to get out of the doors, they hid out in the meat locker, a walk-in freezer that was insulted by galva- nized metal. They survived. At about the same time, Uncle Paul moved his fam- ily out of Nanna and Babbo- nonno's house to an apart- ment on St. Edward's Road in the Orient Heights section of East Boston. Actually, the house was getting a bit too much for Nanna to handle and Babbononno put it on the market. When it was sold, we moved to 74 Eutaw Street, just two doors away. Nanna and Babbononno found an apartment on Princeton Street, just a ten minute walk from Eutaw, but just after they moved in, Nanna suffered a heart at- tack which put her in a hos- pital for quite a long stretch of time. The problem was severe enough that it would take a couple of years for her to regain all of her strength and resume normal activi- ties. The spark that would invigorate her would be the news that Uncle Gino would be coming home on leave from the Army Air Corps. He was stationed in the Pacific and although Mom and my other uncles tried to conceal from Nanna the danger he was in, she knew, but kept her mouth shut and suffered in silence. 1945 arrived and Ger- many surrendered. A few months later, Japan followed suit and the war was over. Both of my uncles, Nick and Gino were discharged from the service and attempted to resume normal lives. Uncle Nick's marriage to Aunt Ada was over and it would take from the end of the war to almost 1950 for a divorce decree to be handed down to them (Massachusetts Blue Laws). Uncle Gino found his lady love in New York and married her (Aunt Ninna). They would eventually settle in Boston after trying out both NYC and Miami. With the end of the war, Dad finished up with the OSS and the war prisoners. He began studying at Boston Teachers College and B.U. part-time and was inter- viewed for a position in a new Boston school program that was being organized. The Department of Audio Visual Education was a new idea that would present the latest in technology to the city's schools and Dad became one of the pioneers. (There were only four in the beginning). He would stay there for the rest of his teaching career. Uncle Nick headed for the North End Industrial School and studied watch making, but would soon be elected to the position of vice president in the Musician's Union and remain in that office for the next 25 years. I'll pick it up at this point next week ... GOD BLESS AMERICA Come Sing with the Award Winning LIBERTY BELLE CHORUS Learn about the wonderful world of a cappella singing ~ OPEN REHEARSALS ~ Do you like to sing, dance and perform? Would you like to learn vocal production techniques and presenta- tion skills? Are you longing for applause? If you're look- tion of acappella singing, performing Broadway show tunes and popular music of yesterday and today, the Lib- erty Belle Chorus is for you. Come to a rehearsal any - ing_for .the fun and.satisfac- Monday. evening at. 7:00 pm in St. Camillus Church Hall, 1175 Concord Turnpike (di- rectly off of Route 2, Exit 57) in Arlington. For more details, visit e-mail: W#