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West Side Stories

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All of our people were drafted. Nobody joined. I don't know anybody who was a volunteer. They all had a number. When their number came up they went.

Rosemarie's friend Bill went in December of '41. He was Greek. His family lived on Adams Street, down near Cicero Avenue.

Ma used to say, "Why do you want to marry a Greek? His mother doesn't even speak English."

Rosemarie would say, "You want me to marry an Irishman?"

Anyway, when Bill was shipping out for Europe he wrote and asked Rosemarie if she would come to Providence, Rhode Island, and spend a week with him before he left.

My mother was, "No. No. No. You don't do that sort of thing."

But Bill rented a room for Rosemarie, and he had this woman write a letter to Ma saying that she was renting the room to Rosemarie and that she would assure her that nothing was wrong. That they would not--

So Ma let her go.

Afterward Ma was so grateful that she had because if she hadn't--it would have been awful.

One night after Rosemarie got back I woke up in the middle of the night, and I found myself sitting up in bed thinking somebody must be in trouble. One of the few times in my life I thought I must be psychic. Then I thought, well, whoever it is, I'll just say a prayer for him and go back to sleep. Which is what I did.

It was a very few days later--I don't think it was a week--it was a Sunday, it was Valentine's Day. Bill's brother came walking up to the house. I thought, oh, Bill's brother is bringing Rosemarie a valentine. He rang the bell and handed Rosemarie the telegram.

Bill was on the Dorchester. It had been sunk off the coast of Greenland. That's where the four chaplains gave up their life jackets and went down with the ship. It was a troopship that was sunk by a German U-boat.

I used to keep notes on a calendar at work. I'd write little things--how the war was going and who was where. I checked back, and the night I woke up was the night the ship went down. I told Rosemarie that I thought Bill was trying to get to her and he hit me instead.

She was a wreck after that. She'd read every paper looking for articles. I don't think many survived.

I got married the next month, and Rosemarie was the maid of honor. We didn't even know if she'd be in the wedding, but she agreed. But we were quite worried about her.

During the middle of the mass Rosemarie whispers, "Mary, I'm sick."

I whisper, "Vince, Rosemarie's sick."

He says, "Frank, Rosemarie's sick. Take her out."

So Frank, the best man, in real altar-boy style, he walks to the center, he genuflects, he takes Rosemarie, he goes out.

Now it's time for us to go up for the blessing, so we go up and kneel down. The priest turns around and he whispers, "You'd think they were getting married instead of you."

He broke the tension. You didn't feel so awful. It wasn't as bad as you thought.

Then pretty soon Rosemarie was back. She'd felt sort of dizzy.

She'd been having a rough time. They never found Bill. They found some of the men frozen on rafts. There were some that survived, I believe, but not too many.

She watched newspapers for months.

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