Every once in a while the universe will allow you a glimpse into the window of legendary fairy tales and beautiful romance stories. Today I was bestowed the honor of such a thing simply by two men recognizing and respecting one another in the brotherhood of arms.
I was pushing my father, a Marine, into his place of physical therapy for his scheduled appointment. We were wheeling past an older gentleman, I only briefly observed, sitting in a chair with his hands resting on the walker with wheels in front him, when my dad firmly planted his feet to make me stop short so he could salute and shake hands with a man that left an impact on my mind and soul I will never forget.
As I listened to the two soldiers exchange military lingo and a comradery that seems to lessen among society as the years roll on, I became intrigued by this man that represented the Greatest Generation of all time. Once I got my dad situated with his PT guys, I couldn’t get back fast enough to the seat next to the man I hoped would allow me to ask questions about who he was and his story of WWII. He graciously and humbly invited me into his world……
Frank Petrillo; age 94; grew up in Camden NJ; born November 1923; part of the 35th Infantry Division that landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6th 1944, commonly and infamously known as D-Day. That was the only information he gave me about himself pertaining to what I thought was his story. How foolish and naive was I? In his mind that wasn’t his story at all, only something he had done for his country as a very young man. He began to tell me his story and it started with “Amazing Grace” his beautiful bride of 70 years. He never spoke of himself again, only her.
“My wife, Amazing Grace, has the story to tell. She is 90, a young girl” he let out a little school boy giggle when he said that. “She still drives. She has the story of all stories. A wonderful woman. She does good deeds and very helpful to others” he paused for a few seconds after a thought or memory seemed to cross his mind then continued “we have five children and grandchildren. We are blessed and fortunate. They are all doing very well.” He grew quiet again with his head down and eyes closed. I thought perhaps he was done speaking with me or grew tired but then he lifted his head, eyes still closed and started reciting a poem. A poem that he heard while over in England during the war. It was not just any poem but, after research, I learned was one of the greatest poems ever written by one of the greatest poets ever born. This was a poem in which he stated he knew nothing about other then he recognized the importance of the words. It was “Valley of Decision” written by Allen Curnow in 1933.
About that time, from the back PT room, here came his Amazing Grace with her walker on wheels leading the way to take them home. He stood up to greet her then introduced me. I explained who I was and what we were discussing which lead to him and her reciting the ‘Valley of Decision’ together as they tried to recall all the words which lead to this……”He use to recite poetry and sing songs to me while we were courting.” As she was telling me this, her eyes were on Frank and she began to sing a verse from a love song he would sing to her at the very start of their love story; “won’t you be my Tootsie Wootsie, won’t you be my Love”, they both giggled. Amazing Grace went on to explain the meaning of this special gift of a poem she and Frank shared with me; “Our lives are patterned out for us whether we like it or not and we shouldn’t worry about it because the more you worry, its more stress and it takes years off your life, we have been married 70 years and we feel like we just got married” she giggled at him, then ended our conversation by looking directly at me saying “so everyday is a gift remember that” and then off into the sunset they went pushing their walkers side by side leaving me and the others in tears. It was a beautiful and magical moment. It was a brief encounter that will stay with me forever. I am not sure if they were even aware of how magical it was for everyone sitting in the area to witness True Love at its finest, but I do know they are fully aware of the love they share.
To Frank and his Amazing Grace…..If you have found your way to this page, I humbly thank you for sharing your story and time with me. A true and genuine romance that will rival any fairy tale ending of a book.