Between The Bridges

A veteran of the Korean War, his Christian name was James DiTullio, but to his friends and extended family at the Broad Channel VFW he was known simply as “Grumpy”. I first met Grumpy years ago on a Sunday afternoon at the Broad Channel VFW where he served as that organization’s bar chairman.  Seated in the canteen, wearing a pair of reading glasses with one lens conspicuously missing and a baseball cap with “GRUMPY” emblazoned in large capital letters above the bill, he greeted me with a firm hand shake and a warm welcome to his kingdom.  He asked me what branch of the service I had served with and when I told him that I had completed two enlistments in the United Sates Marine Corps, he quickly replied, “Two enlistments with the green machine huh?  You graduated from just plain dumb to complete idiot didn’t you?  I guess there is a good reason USMC stands for Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children.”  Right then and there I knew I would like this guy.

One warm summer weekend as Vicky Amendolera, who tended bar at the VFW on Sundays, kept our glasses topped with ice cold draft beer I asked Grumpy how he came to acquire his curmudgeonly nickname.  “I have no idea! People have always told me that I’m grumpy but, for Christ’s sake, it’s not like I have spent my life walking  around poking children in the eye.  Well, not very small ones, anyway.” Before I could say anything, Vicky started laughing and said “Don’t believe a word that this ill-tempered old goat tells you! One look at his glasses and it should be real clear who gets poked in the eye!”

I visited Grumpy at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway some years back where he was, as he put it, in for his annual tune up!  During the course of my visit our conversation turned towards Grumpy’s service in Korea as a young soldier back in the early 50’s.  I asked him why that conflict was often referred to as the Forgotten War. He sat up in his bed and removed his reading glasses and began cleaning its one intact lens with a tissue and said, “Korea happened so soon after WWII but did not involve as many troops or combat deaths.  In WWII the entire country got behind the war effort and supported the GI’s but the early 50’s saw most Americans at home enjoying the domestic benefits of the post WWII boom.  It was like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today. Unless you have someone you are related to or personally know serving, most people didn’t pay too much attention. It is really a shame. Keep in mind though that for those of us who served in Korea, that war is anything but forgotten.” 

As they will sound for all of us, back on March 13, 2014, final taps were sounded for Grumpy as his 82 year tour of duty on this earth came to an honorable close.  As I end this column I realize just how much I miss those Sundays when Grumpy and I would sit sipping our beers talking about everything and nothing as Vicky kept a close eye on both of us making sure I was sent packing as soon as I became bilingual and started talking to my sneakers.  I truly enjoyed both the company and friendship of this gentleman and I appreciate all of you taking a few minutes of your time to remember Grumpy along with me.  He may be gone but he is surely not forgotten.

Broad Channel, why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

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