One day Anthony Catalino’s 11-year-old granddaughter asked him if he had ever been in the war. After briefly confirming to her that he indeed had, he realized that a brief answer didn’t really say much of anything.
He decided that there were stories about his four-and-a-half years in World War II that needed to be told. Not combat stories, for he never saw direct combat, but instead, all of the oblique, behind-the-scenes events which still made the war a momentous, life-changing journey.
The Mount Vernon resident has collected his thoughts and some photos in the book, “Grandpa’s Selective Memories of World War II: An Artilleryman in Italy,” published by Merriam Press. Catalino, a retired social service worker and administrator, has a sure touch for shaping his anecdotes to reveal the important truths contained in them.
For instance, when he describes the training of his artillery battery, he tells stories, with no rough language censored, about how confrontational things could get in a group of soldiers from the deep south, New York City, and upstate New York, such as Rochester, from where Catalino himself came.
“It was the Civil War again, without the shooting, or loss of life,” Catalino writes, efficiently capturing the tension the young soldiers felt. But at the same time, Catalino leavens his shrewd psychological insights with humor, such as in the amusing farce of how he got arrested on the eve of his departure for the Army, or in his blunders as a new recruit, such as gawking at the general’s Jeep without knowing he was supposed to salute.
Catalino’s military career took an abrupt turn out of the artillery sphere, though, with an impromptu football game. The game was played the second day of bivouac in the Algerian port of Oran in northern Africa. A sharp turn made to evade a tackle led to his foot sliding across the loose stones, twisting his right knee and tearing the ligaments. This led to him being placed on limited service for the rest of the war.
Ending up a medical technician with time on his hands, Catalino made the most of his time when he was stationed in first Casablanca and later Italy, exploring the cities and getting to know locals. Italy, his family’s home land, found Catalino going to the opera, visiting historical buildings and seeing famous works of art. He confesses he didn’t know much about any of those things at the time, but it gave him much food for thought and conversation in the coming years.
It also provided relief from the endless streams of wounded, mangled soldiers coming into the provisional hospital in Florence, where Catalino was stationed for a long stretch before moving farther west and north as the war went into its closing phases.
After the war, Catalino received a master’s degree from the Buffalo School of Social Work. Later, he pursued post-masters study at the University of California, Berkeley. He has worked over the years as a psychiatric social worker, a juvenile patrol agent, director of social services, director of cottage life, superintendent of three separate juvenile institutions in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. In Pennsylvania, he became Bureau Chief of Children’s Institutions.
As superintendent of two segregated girls training schools in Florida, Catalino succeeded in making them both racially integrated and subsequently co-educational as well. For a time, Catalino also served as an adjunct professor for Rollins College in the state of Florida, and has written a number of articles that have appeared in several trade journals. He now lives in Mount Vernon.
Copies of the book can be obtained from www.merriam-press.com.