, Newburyport, MA

Local News

February 2, 2013

Lagoulis column: Leaving one's mark somewhere, somehow


I was a strong young man. Soon, I became an ironworker. I received raises seemingly each month because I’d gotten promoted and because I was willing to work six and a half days a week. How happy I was to have a job! Each week I brought my entire pay check home to my mother, living in Market Square. It felt good. It felt right.

I no longer had to watch my mother cry. We no longer had to beg the Red Cross on the steps of their building located on Harris Street and feel the door being repeatedly slammed in our face, nor at the Greek church, nor at City Hall. There were no so-called government programs in those days to help people in need, especially immigrants and non-citizens. As a young man I tried to explain to them (my mother could not speak English then): “We may not be citizens, but we are human beings.” They still gave us nothing.

At last, things had turned around for us! How happy we were! It did not last very long. Unbeknownst to us, WWII was just around the corner. Soon, I would realize just how cruel a world it is.

When I’d joined the Naval Reserves, they asked me about my past, previous work and skills. They were satisfied and accepted me. It was 1941 and I was called into the service to serve my country. There, I excelled. I experienced active combat during invasions of Guadalcanal, Vella LaVella, and Okinawa. The ship that took us there, USS John Penn, was sunk by the Japanese after we’d hurriedly disembarked, wading to shore carrying 50-60 lbs. of supplies on our backs in deep waters well over our heads.

Many men drowned there in the deep waters before even reaching the shore. I reached down into the water and pulled one of the men up by his backpack until he got his feet on higher ground with head above water a few feet further. Having grown up as a wharf rat, swimming in the waters of the Merrimack River in Newburyport, I took these deep and dangerous waters in stride; it didn’t bother me at all.

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