Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Back Pages: November, 1963

My Back Pages: November, 1963:  Fifty years ago, my friends and I spent the evening as we always did. It was Thursday, November 21, 1963 and after dinner, we would all go ...

November, 1963


 Fifty years ago, my friends and I spent the evening as we always did. It was Thursday, November 21, 1963 and after dinner, we would all go to the Boys Club to spend the evening playing pool, trying to shoot hoops, or watching TV in the TV room. We were, as usual, lost in our own little teenaged worlds.... telling stories.. some of them true, thinking that we were kings of the world. Safe and secure, never thinking anything could change it. Not thinking about tomorrow, or next week, or next year.
 As we left the club on the cold November night, we made plans to meet the next day. Freddy, Sammy and I would cut school and hang out, waiting for Donnie, George, and Bobby to get out, so that we could all hang out at San Filis  Pizza parlor. Little did we know that the events of the next four days would change our lives and  turn our whole world on it's ear.
 The 22nd dawned bright and cold. My mother shook me awake to make sure that I had breakfast and got out the door on time. "Make sure you go to school and work hard" she said as I ate my cold cereal and stared morosely into space. "Yeah, ma.. Ok, I will.. whatever.." I was a moody teenager and I hated school. I had other things on my mind. 
 Out the door I went. I caught the bus on main street and, after transferring once, I arrived at the High School. I waited until I was late, then signed in at the office. This checked me in for the day, and enabled me to leave and not be caught. 
 I stopped in at the diner for coffee, killing time until Fred, Sam and I could meet up. Around 10:00 AM, I made my way to Fred's. Sam was already there, so we sat and talked and listened to 77 WABC and the latest music, as the  minutes in the President's life counted down.
 At approximately 01:35 Eastern Standard Time, a bulletin interrupted the song that was playing on the radio. I don't remember what it was, and it doesn't matter now. The announcement said that shots had been fired at the Presidential motorcade. The motorcade then sped up. Details were sketchy. They returned to the music. Thirty seconds later, they broke in again to say that the President had been shot, but there was no news yet as to how seriously. The motorcade was going to Parkland Hospital. The details were slow in coming. At one point, the reporter said that two priests had stopped to speak to the press as they left the hospital and they said that President Kennedy had died. A short time later, the official word came over that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, our vibrant, young President, had been assassinated.
  We were dumb-struck. This was something that got through to us. We left Fred's house to go meet the other guys and some of the girls, as they got out of school. Someone suggested that we go to Blessed Sacrament Church. We all did... even those who were not Catholic. We sat in stunned silence. There were a lot of people who had come to say a prayer. You could hear the sobs of some of them as they knelt and said prayers. I felt a wetness on my cheeks and wiped away the reluctant tears that had found their way there. I couldn't let anyone see me crying... it wasn't cool! Yet, I saw grown men and women openly weeping. This mad act had hit at the very heart of the American People as a whole.
  We left the church and drifted home. I watched as Lyndon B Johnson took the oath of office and then addressed the nation from the tarmac. His words still resonate down through the years "This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep, personal tragedy. I know the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best; that is all I can do. I ask for your help and God's" 
  I will never forget the sound of his voice, or the impact of those words until my dying day. I passed through the next three days like a zombie. I felt empty and drained; I had never felt like this before, not even when my grandparents died. I watched as Oswald was gunned down and felt a momentary satisfaction. This would pass quickly as the realization set in that this would prevent us from knowing the whole truth of the assassination and the events that led up to it.
 Watching the funeral on Monday, I wept openly. My youth was gone forever. The harsh reality of the cold, hard world started to sink in.
  We tried, over the next few years, to get back some of the innocence lost on that cold November day, but somehow, it always seemed different after that. Soon came the drumbeat of war, and we watched as the first of our friends were swept up in the conflagration of the Vietnam War. We watched as Buddhist Monks set themselves on fire in protest against the repressive regimes that ran that country, one after another. We grieved over friends who were cut down in their prime in a war that was a lost cause. I joined the Marine Corps, Fred joined the Air Force.
 The civil rights movement took hold, finally.  The calls for an end to segregation and equal rights for all got louder, and soon the marches and the protests started to crack the resolve of the segregationists. Not, however, without high costs.. Martin Luther King was killed in the cause of equality for  all. Robert F. Kennedy was killed by another madman, because of his support of Israel. Through it all, the war raged on. Johnson declined to run for re-election. Nixon claimed that he had a 'Secret Plan' to end the war. Watergate happened. Kissinger said 'Peace is at hand'.. the war dragged on for two more years before it finally ended. Nixon resigned, and the country moved on.
  Now, I'm an old man. I look sadly at those years, and think of what might have been. I can only pray that, someday, we as a people, will learn a lesson from all of this. That the time will come when there will be no more war. That people will finally treat each other with respect and acceptance, regardless of race, religion, or sexual identity.
 I look back across the years to President Kennedy and wish that things could have been different.. that he could have lived and perhaps changed the world. Johnson pushed through Civil Rights and Medicare, but he will long be remembered, not for those accomplishments, but for the Vietnam War.  John F. Kennedy will always be remembered for the assassination, and for the bright hopes and dreams that he embodied, for what might have been. All I can tell you is that those days changed me forever.
 My thoughts jump around, as do the words on this page. Terrible events will do that to you.
 John Zaffino November 21, 2013

Afterword
  It has been a very long day for me. I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that fifty years have passed since President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. Every year, the events of that day come back to me and rip open the wound on my soul that this event left. It was the first of several that would follow. To me, and to many who remember his vigor and his love of freedom, he will always be a shining symbol; not because of what he had accomplished, but because of what he challenged us, as citizens of the world, to aspire to, and the bright promise of what might have been. He served only 1,036 days, but in that short period of time, he managed to inspire countless numbers of American youth. When he spoke, his words made you take notice. He is the reason that I volunteered to serve in the Marine Corps, rather than see if I would be drafted. Years from now, when he is a distant memory, and those of us who were alive during his time are gone, I hope that historians remember not only what he accomplished as President, but also how he inspired young people, and what might have been. 
 In any event, one can only hope that the hopes and dreams that he inspired in people like me will some day come to pass. Peace and Love to all.
 John Zaffino, November 22, 2013


Monday, November 18, 2013

My Back Pages: Thanksgiving..

My Back Pages: Thanksgiving..: Changes After 27 years of hosting Thanksgiving Dinner at our home, with yours truly doing most of the cooking, our kitchen will be cold,...

Thanksgiving..

Changes


After 27 years of hosting Thanksgiving Dinner at our home, with yours truly doing most of the cooking, our kitchen will be cold, and our house silent (as silent as a house with four bickering dogs can be!). We will be going to Paulette and Scott's house for the family gathering. Sadly, the deteriorating condition of my hands due to arthritis will not allow me to do all of what is required to make a successful dinner. Oh, I will contribute a few things: stuffed mushrooms and my wife's requested green bean casserole; but no home made sweet potato casserole or my loved mashed red potatoes, or freshly made cranberry sauce. Paulette will make the stuffing from my recipe, and will brine the turkey. We are bringing our silverware and have already sent our Thanksgiving service settings. We have been requested to be there by 11:00 AM (We always ate in the late afternoon), and we will be there. It's a proud moment, to see our children hosting the family tradition. Next year, it will be Danielle and Alan's turn.
  This is a very sad time for me, though. The memories of the years echo with the laughter and happiness of a family sharing one special day together. My father in law, George, would come down from Albany, along with my brother in law Hal, his wife Debbie, and our niece Sara, and nephew Sam. We watched all the children grow from infants to young children to teenagers and adults. Friends, like Sue and Jimmy O'Conner and Sheila Reuther sometimes joined us. There were years when Sheryl was managing the UA Cinemas in Carmel, when I would cook the dinner, and haul it all down to the movie theater and feed the entire staff, along with our family. We never missed a beat. We were a loving, loud, happy family of mixed ethnicity, different religions, and a shared passionate love for each and every one of us. The wine and beer flowed, along with the cook, who inevitably ate very little, but some years drank  wa-a-a-ay too much (no little thanks to brother in law, Hal.. love you, pal!) 
 As the years wore on, George, sadly, has left us. Hal and Debbie have moved to the far end of Jersey, so we do not see them very much. Sue and Sheila are in Florida, and, even though everyone enjoyed the day, the anticipation of having an ever growing family come to our small house for dinner, started to wear a bit. Last year was the big split. We decided to cut it down and not have a big dinner by mutual agreement. We had a quiet day with just a few of the family members here. It just was not the same, and the ghosts of Thanksgiving's passed haunted my days. It will never be the same. It could never be the same. However, we will watch as the our children, who we loved and fretted over, and tried to raise right despite all the obstacles thrown in front of us, make the new traditions. I hope that they continue to host each other's families at Thanksgivings future, and to love each other fiercely. 
 Time passes, traditions are modified to accommodate changes within families. Love, however, should never change. It should remain vibrant and strong. That's what makes a family. 
 To my wife and my children, I love you all, and am happy to see you when I can. To all of my friends, wherever you are, regardless of your nationalities, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, because the spirit of this holiday transcends nationalities. May the spirits of Peace and Love follow you throughout your days.
 John Zaffino, Carmel New York November, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Goodbye, My Dear Friend

Today, we sent our dear friend, Dan Viola, off in style. Claudia brought his ashes back from the west coast to be spread in his town. We all miss Dan so very much. Claudia said that he didn't think that people loved him; well, today showed that they did. He had many friends, from all walks of life. He was a sweet and gentle man who was well loved by the community in which he lived and served for so many years
 He was my friend. That says enough. This is a man who I would hug and kiss on his cheek without any embarrassment.  I spent many nights sitting and talking to him, long after the bar was closed, and the doors locked. He respected and loved me, and I will always love and respect him. This was a man of the people. This was a man of his community, who was loved and respected by all who ever came in contact with him. I love you, Dan Viola, and I will miss you until the day that I join you.
 Claudia, my dear friend. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to honor him and to show our respect and love for him. You are a beautiful lady, who was a loving wife. Blessings to you all.
 Dan, my beautiful friend, Rest In Peace, and know that you were loved and respected.
  John Zaffino 11/09/13

Friday, November 8, 2013

Veteran's Day - The Marine Corps Birthday, and One Fading Marine

Here we are at Veteran's Day Weekend, 2013. As I sit here and reflect on the years that have passed, I wonder what lies ahead for us all? We, who have served our countriy did it with the hope that we would see an end to war.. and end to the killing over scraps of land and ideologies. We served because we though that it was the right thing to do. I did it because I felt, and still feel, that it is the cost of living in a free society. The cost of being able to cast my vote for who would represent me in this process called democracy. The cost for having my voice heard, along with others who think as I do, in a country that is supposed to be the symbol of what a country that allows all people to participate in the political process, is supposed to be. It is a great thing to feel that way. I must admit, I am a bit of an idealist. I believe in letting the results of elections speak for themselves. My guy (or lady) didn't win that time? Oh, well.. I have to go with the results and stand behind the one who did. Next time might be different. No hard feelings towards those who won. That's Democracy. That's what those who joined the military fought and some cases, died for. The right to participate. The right to have differing opinions without consequences. I am proud to have served. I am proud to be an American and a Patriot. I have been called other things. Not too many weeks ago, I was called a 'Warmonger' by someone who has never felt the hot breath of oppression on her neck, who comfortably runs her own business in a country that exists only because so many fought against the horrors that would have snuffed out the right of free will. I forgive that person for being so callous.
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  I love this country, with all of my heart and soul. I love her allies, who have stood with us through so much strife. I love my fellow veterans, each and every man and woman, no matter what their race, religion, or political beliefs. They served, as I did, for the greater good. I support their right to believe in whatever they believe in. I also stand up for my right to believe what I believe. For all of us, it is a right that we fought to sustain. It breaks my heart to hear all the name calling and finger pointing. I hate the chest pounding of one group against another. "My beliefs are more patriotic than yours!"  "You are not a real American, because you don't believe as I do". 
 To all of this, I say "Enough!" We served together, fought together, laughed together, and in some cases, died together. We stood up to support an idea that men and women can govern themselves, disagree, and still stand shoulder to shoulder as one strong people. I did not serve so that we could witness the destruction of this country. I did not serve so that one party or another, could run roughshod over the rest of the people. 
 I want this to be a salute to all of the veterans who served. I want it to be a reaffirmation of my love for the entity which I joined so many years ago, My Marine Corps. I want everyone, from here to all points across the globe, to know that I will stand for Democracy until I take my last breath, for this is how I was raised.
 So, on this Sunday, the Marine Corps Birthday, and Monday, Veterans Day, set aside your petty politics. Set aside your religious differences, and embrace those who defend your right to think as you wish, to worship as you wish, and show them that all of their efforts are not in vain. Show them that you support them and the ideals that make them American Heroes.
 Semper Fidelis, and Bless you all.

 John Zaffino, Corporal, USMC 1966 - 1970 and forever.




FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2013


Veteran's Day Weekend, Marine Corps Birthday, and One Fading Marine

 Here we are at Veteran's Day Weekend, 2013. As I sit here and reflect on the years that have passed, I wonder what lies ahead for us all? We, who have served our countriy did it with the hope that we would see an end to war.. and end to the killing over scraps of land and ideologies. We served because we though that it was the right thing to do. I did it because I felt, and still feel, that it is the cost of living in a free society. The cost of being able to cast my vote for who would represent me in this process called democracy. The cost for having my voice heard, along with others who think as I do, in a country that is supposed to be the symbol of what a country that allows all people to participate in the political process, is supposed to be. It is a great thing to feel that way. I must admit, I am a bit of an idealist. I believe in letting the results of elections speak for themselves. My guy (or lady) didn't win that time? Oh, well.. I have to go with the results and stand behind the one who did. Next time might be different. No hard feelings towards those who won. That's Democracy. That's what those who joined the military fought and some cases, died for. The right to participate. The right to have differing opinions without consequences. I am proud to have served. I am proud to be an American and a Patriot. I have been called other things. Not too many weeks ago, I was called a 'Warmonger' by someone who has never felt the hot breath of oppression on her neck, who comfortably runs her own business in a country that exists only because so many fought against the horrors that would have snuffed out the right of free will. I forgive that person for being so callous.
  I love this country, with all of my heart and soul. I love her allies, who have stood with us through so much strife. I love my fellow veterans, each and every man and woman, no matter what their race, religion, or political beliefs. They served, as I did, for the greater good. I support their right to believe in whatever they believe in. I also stand up for my right to believe what I believe. For all of us, it is a right that we fought to sustain. It breaks my heart to hear all the name calling and finger pointing. I hate the chest pounding of one group against another. "My beliefs are more patriotic than yours!"  "You are not a real American, because you don't believe as I do". 
 To all of this, I say "Enough!" We served together, fought together, laughed together, and in some cases, died together. We stood up to support an idea that men and women can govern themselves, disagree, and still stand shoulder to shoulder as one strong people. I did not serve so that we could witness the destruction of this country. I did not serve so that one party or another, could run roughshod over the rest of the people. 
 I want this to be a salute to all of the veterans who served. I want it to be a reaffirmation of my love for the entity which I joined so many years ago, My Marine Corps. I want everyone, from here to all points across the globe, to know that I will stand for Democracy until I take my last breath, for this is how I was raised.
 So, on this Sunday, the Marine Corps Birthday, and Monday, Veterans Day, set aside your petty politics. Set aside your religious differences, and embrace those who defend your right to think as you wish, to worship as you wish, and show them that all of their efforts are not in vain. Show them that you support them and the ideals that make them American Heroes.
 Semper Fidelis, and Bless you all.
 John Zaffino, Corporal, USMC 1966 - 1970 and forever.


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Veteran's Day Weekend, Marine Corps Birthday, and One Fading Marine

 Here we are at Veteran's Day Weekend, 2013. As I sit here and reflect on the years that have passed, I wonder what lies ahead for us all? We, who have served our countriy did it with the hope that we would see an end to war.. and end to the killing over scraps of land and ideologies. We served because we though that it was the right thing to do. I did it because I felt, and still feel, that it is the cost of living in a free society. The cost of being able to cast my vote for who would represent me in this process called democracy. The cost for having my voice heard, along with others who think as I do, in a country that is supposed to be the symbol of what a country that allows all people to participate in the political process, is supposed to be. It is a great thing to feel that way. I must admit, I am a bit of an idealist. I believe in letting the results of elections speak for themselves. My guy (or lady) didn't win that time? Oh, well.. I have to go with the results and stand behind the one who did. Next time might be different. No hard feelings towards those who won. That's Democracy. That's what those who joined the military fought and some cases, died for. The right to participate. The right to have differing opinions without consequences. I am proud to have served. I am proud to be an American and a Patriot. I have been called other things. Not too many weeks ago, I was called a 'Warmonger' by someone who has never felt the hot breath of oppression on her neck, who comfortably runs her own business in a country that exists only because so many fought against the horrors that would have snuffed out the right of free will. I forgive that person for being so callous.
  I love this country, with all of my heart and soul. I love her allies, who have stood with us through so much strife. I love my fellow veterans, each and every man and woman, no matter what their race, religion, or political beliefs. They served, as I did, for the greater good. I support their right to believe in whatever they believe in. I also stand up for my right to believe what I believe. For all of us, it is a right that we fought to sustain. It breaks my heart to hear all the name calling and finger pointing. I hate the chest pounding of one group against another. "My beliefs are more patriotic than yours!"  "You are not a real American, because you don't believe as I do". 
 To all of this, I say "Enough!" We served together, fought together, laughed together, and in some cases, died together. We stood up to support an idea that men and women can govern themselves, disagree, and still stand shoulder to shoulder as one strong people. I did not serve so that we could witness the destruction of this country. I did not serve so that one party or another, could run roughshod over the rest of the people. 
 I want this to be a salute to all of the veterans who served. I want it to be a reaffirmation of my love for the entity which I joined so many years ago, My Marine Corps. I want everyone, from here to all points across the globe, to know that I will stand for Democracy until I take my last breath, for this is how I was raised.
 So, on this Sunday, the Marine Corps Birthday, and Monday, Veterans Day, set aside your petty politics. Set aside your religious differences, and embrace those who defend your right to think as you wish, to worship as you wish, and show them that all of their efforts are not in vain. Show them that you support them and the ideals that make them American Heroes.
 Semper Fidelis, and Bless you all.
 John Zaffino, Corporal, USMC 1966 - 1970 and forever.

Friday, November 1, 2013

My Back Pages: Veteran's Day Thoughts: Wives and Lovers and My Au...

My Back Pages: Veteran's Day Thoughts: Wives and Lovers and My Au...: It’s been a tough month for me and my family. Birthday’s, Anniversaries, the death of a beloved family member. So many different emotions...

Veteran's Day Thoughts: Wives and Lovers and My Aunt Mary

It’s been a tough month for me and my family. Birthday’s, Anniversaries, the death of a beloved family member. So many different emotions, from high to low. Difficult times. It’s easier to deal with straight emotional lows, than to be pulled from one to the other on almost a daily basis. It tests ones strength and character. 
 I have been wanting to write another of my essays on whatever I could focus on out of all this, but it has just been impossible. I’ve wanted to honor my Aunt Mary, and my wife, but found myself jumping back and forth and blurring the lines. Now, we have Veteran’s Day, the Marine Corps Birthday (Which is very important to me) and Thanksgiving, all upon us in a rush. I won’t even mention Election Day, because I am sick to death of politics and politicians, and I just need a rest from stupid, self centered people for a while. I may get back into it again, at a later date; but for now, I barely watch anything political and my TV and radio are silent for most of the day.
  Still, I struggle with what to write. My head is filled with things that I would like to say, and yet it has been almost impossible to  get it out. Until now.
 It dawned on me that the Greatest and Bravest Generation is all but gone from the world stage. These brave souls who stepped up during the worst of times, from the Great Depression through Korea and the great recovery and rebuilding, are all but gone. We’ve saluted the brave men who brought the world back from the brink of utter disaster many times. From the start of the War in Europe, through the attack on Pearl Harbor to ‘D’ Day in Europe and the tortuous war in the Pacific, they gave their all.
 We could never repay them for all that they did. How do you repay blood, sweat, and tears? How do you make whole those who lost part of themselves, physically and mentally, in these horrible wars, and the events leading up to them? You cannot. Material things help, but they never can ease the pain and the torment. So, we set aside this Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Day to remember them, as they fade into history. Our finest people who live through our darkest hours and brought us through.
 Yet, there is one group in there that we tend to push to the side; not intentionally, but because the spotlight has always been on the brave men. We pay them passing praise, but it seems to me that they deserve more that that. I’m talking about the wives and lovers of those brave men. Women like my mother and my Aunt Mary, who stayed home and kept a vigil as their loved ones went off to war to keep us free. Some stayed home, as my Aunt did, with infant children, hoping against hope that their loved ones would return from the war safe. Some worked in the factories and in the shops and stores in order to heep the country moving and supplied with the things necessary for the war effort, and for daily life. When the war ended, they comforted their husbands and lovers and helped them through the difficult periods of readjustment to living peaceful and productive lives. Some stayed home and raised families while their husbands went off to work. Some, as my Aunt Mary did, balanced work along with raising a family. They helped their husbands build small businesses, and became active and productive members of the communities in which they lived, helping the communities thrive and grow. They saw their children grow and leave home to start their own families and they felt the silence grow around them as they became less and less a part of the community that mattered. Some, like my Aunt, had people around them who did not forget all that they had done for the world. Others, sadly, were warehoused and forgotten, for the most part, victims of the every increasing pressures of modern life. 
  We need to stop, for a few precious moments here, and remember all of their contributions, for they are veterans, too. Just as our fathers and grandfathers served on the battlefield against enemies  who would enslave us all, the fought on the home front, long after the guns were silent, to keep the countries running and strong. To keep the family intact. Do not just push them to the back of your memories; instead, when you think of the veteran, think of them as well. We could not have survived were it not for them and their loving efforts.

 I dedicate this essay to the memory of my Aunt Mary, who died just a few short weeks ago at the age of 97. You are loved and remembered.

 John Zaffino 11/1/ 2013   Carmel, NY