Category Archives: WWII

“Blessed Assurance”.

 

The boy had a mouth on him.

He was the shortest, darkest, angriest trumpet player I had ever seen. Furthermore, his embouchure (through no fault of his own) had never been properly set and his tone, well, that’s what happens when your embouchure hasn’t been set right.

But, there was something in him. He had a deep, inborn sense of the good. He had principle. And, this combination produced a student of such determined commitment, a young man who put forth with every cell in his body to produce. I was merely the music teacher – a scant, 29 year old, belated second year fledgling – and this guy had convinced his impassioned concoction of underprivileged, underserved, and undertrained in the East High marching band to vote “Yes” to compete. I had my work literally cut out for me – by John Jefferson.

The first solution seemed to be a transfer to the F horn. This instrument’s conical bore mouthpiece would allow an easier tone production, in an alto range. John took to it. He learned the solo. I felt my first small triumph.

But, this, of course, was short lived. John spoke out. From the top tier of the bandroom at the end of the annex, he’d answer me back, in full on challenge, and loud enough for the whole room to hear. He was the alpha male, and I needed to know my place.

As for the next decision, I can remember neither the day nor the hour. I only knew that John needed to be out front. He needed to lead. And, that is exactly where I put him. By the end of his first season as a sophomore, John Jefferson was East High drum major.

The whole uniform fit him like the glove on his right hand. The epaulets were never more proud to grace any shoulder. But, most of all, John could finally assume the position he was born to take. John Willis Jefferson could stand, stock still – chin up, eyes fixed – at attention. And, John Willis Jefferson could salute.

The band did their absolute best. I always regretted that the association in charge of the competitions never produced a trophy for Most Developed Ensemble, because my kids deserved a big one. Nevertheless, led by John and his cohorts Shawn and Melanie, the students faltered not once. They just held up their heads .

John graduated from public education during my final year at his high school. The district would move me, against my will, across town to fill a vacancy, and I would never see either him or the rest of the students who would call me “mom” again.

That is, not until one, singular occasion.

Via the blessing of social media, I had been reunited with several former students. Naturally, one of the first to find me was John. Except that he had produced quite a life story – married, to Mindy, and the father of at least two of his three boys. But, about to realize more of that story, quite without warning I received news of an upcoming event: a 20th Class Reunion.

I’d been to several. In fact, every five years, my classmates from Academy High had dutifully taken on the enormous task of bringing us all together for dinner and more.

But, John.

John didn’t just tell me about his. John invited Miss Scanzillo to the East High 20th Reunion of the Class of 1990.

He was hosting, he said. Would I please come? They would be honored by my presence.

To my memory, no teacher had ever attended a high school class reunion. Certainly none of my former teachers were ever present at any of mine – not the 5th, the 10th, the 15th….you get the picture.

The night of the event, I thought perhaps I should appear low key. Clad in a casual, soft summer top and capris, I slipped into Calamari’s Squid Row. The doors opened into a full diningroom draped in white linen. A grand buffet spread across the front, covered in decorative stainless steel. And, presiding at the head of the long, formal room was: John Jefferson.

Master Sergeant John Jefferson, US Air Force.

In full dress.

The red and grey drum major’s costume had been replaced by the dark woolens of the United States Military, Sgt Jefferson’s chest emblazoned with three rows of colored ribbon and precious medals. I was beyond stunned.

Finding a discreet seat at one of the table rounds, I set my gaze on our John. He spoke as loudly as ever before, but with a refined speech, a grace, and a carriage that made my heart well up. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

We kept in touch, after that. Facebook chat was a great place to convene, no matter where he was deployed. He’d check in, from Iraq, Afghanistan….and, always, the sign off: “I love you!”

See, something else had happened to John.

During the first year he and Mindy became a couple, they had both committed their lives to Jesus Christ. Now, not everyone will know what that means to those about whom such an act bespeaks. But, to the faithful, becoming a born-again Christian is what happened to John. This meant that, like my father before him, John accepted a life changing force into his heart. They called this the Holy Spirit, and to this Spirit’s direction and counsel both men would vow to remain true.

John and I continued, now familiar references to prayer and faith peppering his dialogue.

Life marched on, past another decade of Veteran’s Days. Twenty five more years, to be nearly precise. My adored father passed on into eternity, age 95, and I retired from public school music education. Then, word came to me that John and his family were coming back to Erie for another visit. Would I please join them all, for dinner?

Overjoyed, I met the entire family – at Chic-Fil-A. The boys were sweet, quiet (like their mother!) and polite. John talked of his travels and experiences, of meeting President George W Bush; I marveled. Mindy and I met, for the first time, that day – and, before we ate, John bowed his head and publicly asked the blessing for our food.

Last October, (could it be?) John had reached a life milestone. Now Senior Master Sergeant, he was set to retire from the US Air Force. Twenty six years of devoted service to his God and country. A full military ceremony was scheduled, at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. On Facebook, the word went out as an open invitation.

It only took me a couple days to decide.

I flew in. Mindy met me, at the gate, to grant guest of family passage. High security, all around. Miles of real estate, devoted to air power, air men and women, and their commander. I was introduced to the latter, in the office where SMSgt Jefferson had been spending most of his time. A gracious civilian base employee chauffeured me all around the grounds, allowing me a few select photos.

And, then the ceremony. Getting a bear hug from John was the icing on the cake, or so I thought. But, then John’s colleague, a Major, stepped to the podium.

What followed was a litany of awards and accomplishments so vast that I could not contain the realization. John hadn’t just devoted his life to service; he had positively excelled. Officer of the Year. Medals for this, and medals for that. A contract officer, SMSgt Jefferson had, near as I could tell, managed millions of dollars of military monies over two decades of military action across the globe.

The celebration was surreal, a fascinating trek through life passing before one’s eyes. His insisting that I sit “with the family”, me stubbornly resisting that “order” so as to get my choice photos, I sat on the officers’ side. The formal presentation was followed by John’s individualized “thank you’s”. I received the final, single red rose, and words of gratitude which could only be overtaken by those of my own; this old music teacher just had to make sure everyone in the room knew that John had begun his career out front, directing the East High Marching Band. Always a leader, always an outstanding man, from the beginning.

Then, the final occasion.

Last week, I would receive the last of so many words on my beloved student, the boy who came closer to being my own son than any other child I would ever know. Inexplicably, after a mere two months of retired bliss and following a statistically innocuous routine medical procedure, John would cease breathing; efforts to revive him failing, his brain would swell; by sundown the same day, those in power would declare his brain death and, only hours thereafter on a vent and then off, at the age of only 45 his body would give up its ghost to the God of all believers.

This time, I could not attend.

John’s had been a life so worth celebrating; how could I even acknowledge his untimely and unacceptable death? My best effort was to sit, holding the single rose he’d presented to me, and weep.

The world had become, in large, increasing part, a frightening and sinister place for humans to reside. Nations, rising up against nations; holy wars fast becoming the order of the day. Addiction and apathy, married; deceit and treachery, lurching into the limelight; and, all efforts to revive hope, faith, and charity met by the darkest of demons.

Today, many a Scripture verse from the Book of my childhood speaks to me in solitude, along with the memes on my grandmother’s wall:

“For if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

I hope to God it’s all true.

Because, if ever there were a voice on earth deserving of the realization of its passionately held convictions, that voice belongs to the soul of SMSgt John Jefferson.

And, I can still hear him.

SMSgtJohnJeffersonFinalSalute2018

© photo by Ruth Ann Scanzillo 10/17.

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© 3/9/18   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  This piece dedicated to the life and memory of SMSgt John Willis Jefferson, of Erie PA. All rights to its contents the strict property of the author, copied only by the author and shared with those who carry respect for its subject.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Corner.

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The new set up finally felt right.

The laptop should never have been situated anywhere near the davenport. Hardly welcoming to plunk one’s “office” right in the middle of the living room. Add to that the endless stream of paper mail – charity pleas, financial statements, natural health provocateurs, catalogues. Burgeoning piles, taunting every, lifelong attempt to keep an orderly house.

No matter that finding the means to actually toss the static stacks forever eluded. This would harken back to that Great Depression mindset and, well, that was inherited.

Yes. The corner was, finally, just perfect. The wicker rocker had been lovely neo-nostalgia, but sprawling, determined to scrape the last of the baseboard paint all the way down to its 1895 dark wood. And, sitting in the rocker was never right; its ergonomics, or lack thereof, had wrecked both her neck and sacra, the latter already pesky after the fall from the stage in ’09. Perhaps the new chair was more than just easy to assemble. Perhaps she could finally extend her spine fully, and expand her lungs. Perhaps she could finally, functionally, actively: sit.

With the sofa pushed forward, making room for the slender pole lamp, peace lily to the left wafting its oxygen, and heat vent just below, she was at last comfortable enough to troll Facebook, watch Showtime, and write without descending into the dull, half-wit of the couch potato. She noted that getting up to go to the piano was a far more frequent occurrence, now, the most encouraging observation of the hour.

Hardly anybody of any social importance anymore even knew that she played piano. The purchase of the Steinway was only meaningful to her, after all. Funny how expectations were fueled by fantasies, and these by notions. Notions of relative value.

Time didn’t actually pass, she’d been told. But, years did. And, she hadn’t been part of the league of pianists since at least 2005. A decade, to the Millennials and those who spawned them, was a lifetime.

She noted that, from this angle, her reflection appeared in the screen. The way the light refracted provided a clear image. Her face appeared to be receding from its head, the absence of estrogen draining the last of its contouring fat. She used to see an exotic Napolitan, even at her loneliest moments marveling at how distinct she was from the sea of Sicilians in the spectre of her locale. Now, she could only ponder the generic picture of a woman toward which nobody would even look twice.

She wondered if anybody would be listening seven days hence, as she made her recapitulating debut on the live airwaves. The year was probably 1990; Mavis Sargeant, ever the pioneer and a rare Brit in a community of staunch Germans and ethnic ghettos, had initiated “Potpourri”, live classical and its corollaries for a solid hour at high noon at the local PBS affiliate. For quite awhile, it stuck; now, nearly two decades in, live music was once again featured at WQLN – FM. Her selected colleagues had agreed to perform a trio program, and the marketing standard included a live broadcast “teaser” to lure attendees to the scheduled recital.

Thus was her life, lived – by the standards of her alleged family – in complete self-indulgence. Somehow, she had missed the importance of being seen out, in the evenings, where people gathered. She had neglected to form relationships with those who would sustain her social standing. Now her words, last testament to the proof that she had lived, were batted about by anonymous ghost writers, grifters in a world of the younger, prettier, and classed.

Pressing the space bar and the shift key, she placed the next set of them onto the template of the laptop screen.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   1/27/17   Post #478, all authentic, created by this writer, whose rights are reserved in spite of all attempts to the contrary. Yeah. To all the pathetic parasites: Someday, all your sins will find you out. To the honest among you, go in peace.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Bronze.

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Dad, always full of fascinating stories, remembered these details consistently every time he recounted them.

Surrounded by “Krauts”.

Snowing.

A tickle in his throat.

A sugar cube, passed down the silent line, to cut his cough.

Orders: “Infiltrate. Take nothing with you.”

Three days, in the snow.

Three.

Days.

Cpl. Anthony Scanzillo, part of the forward observing team.

Hodges, the commanding officer; General calling the play: George S. Patton.*

The rest, profoundly, history.

I am still not quite sure how to thank my father for all this. Thank him…..for enlisting in the US Army when, as a 20-something vagabond orphan, the military service might have been the only place he could go for three square meals and a bed?….Thank him…..for sticking it out once the war hit, promising his new wife he’d come back to her from Germany?…….Thank him…..for enduring abject fear, horrifyingly explosive sudden death all around him, the demand of primitive conditions and unending misery?…….Thank him…..for using all his internal resources to survive, to come home, to open his barber business, to marry mum twice so that I could be brought into the world.

Thank you, Dad. They tell me that what you did saved the world from an oppressive dictator whose mentality could have overtaken freedom itself. I hope they’re right.

I’m just glad you came home.

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*Footnote:

[ He bit his lip, and kept trudging. And followed orders, and kept breathing, and kept holding his breath, and never closed his eyes (I knew my father. He never closed his eyes, mark that.) and kept watching, and kept looking, and kept listening, and kept trudging, and stood stalk still, and liked to have died, and then the orders came down, and the German prisoners were lined up, and shot dead, and then more trudging, and straight ahead, and no thinking, and then suddenly the orders came down, and surprise attack, and blood, and heads being blown off right beside him, and ear splitting booms, and meemies, screaming, and carnage, and more shooting, and then the orders came down, and they all turned, and back they trudged, and trudged, and trudged, and then they were clear. And, the end. Of that. And, probably peeing and drinking, and eating, and smoking, and finally sleeping.

Dad came home with PTSD that never left him. He was 95, and it still haunted him. My one, retrospective relief is that he died dreaming, in feverish sepsis, turning his left wrist like he was still playing the bones.]

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 7/3/16  All rights those of the author, including the photographs, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com