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Monday, June 2, 2008

Way Cool Update and Show & Tell

I've decided to participate in Mel's Show and Tell. I was planning to post this anyway and I figured it would be the perfect thing to 'share with the class'.

Those of you who dropped in around Memorial Day will remember this post where I talked about my grandfather’s best friend in WWII. Quick recap = Joe Tofinchio died in the 3rd day of battle on the beaches of Normandy; my Grandpa, Nick Fontana, always wondered about Joe’s family but never got in touch with them. Have I got an update for you!!!

After writing that post, I browsed around (love that site!) but like before, I found nothing. On a whim I posted a comment on the message boards. That night, I received this email:

I have no info about Joseph Tofinchio, but have this newspaper photo of him. My Grandmother kept scrapbooks of WWII and this photo was in one about local men who, in her words, 'gave their lives for their country'. Hope you can use it. - Cindy

Wow! Can you believe it?! I exchanged a few emails with Cindy and she got involved in the story. She emailed me the next day with an obituary for Rosemary Tofinchio. Now I’ve seen this obituary several times before, but I never noticed the one vital line that links her to Joe:

“Roe” was predeceased by her two brothers, Joseph and Rufus.

Cindy pointed this out to me, and also looked up the addresses of the two surviving brothers mentioned. Without really thinking about it, I sat down a wrote and letter to these two brothers and dropped it in the mail (along with a copy of my previous blog post). That was Wednesday, 5/28.

On Friday, 5/30, I got a voice mail from a man named John. Come to find out John is Joe’s brother-in-law, married to Joe’s sister, Mary. After a bit of phone tag, we finally spoke to each other late Friday night.

John and Mary were shocked and moved when they received my letter. Friday afternoon they were looking through the folder where they keep info on how to send flowers to Joe’s grave in Normandy. They had just put the folder aside when one of Mary’s brothers showed up with my letter and gave it to them to read. I won’t relate the entire conversation but here are the highlights:

  • After Joe’s death, Mary and her family wrote letters to many people trying to find someone who was actually with Joe when he died. Although they received many responses, they were unable to find anyone who was with Joe and survived.
  • Joe is buried in Normandy, and several members of the family visited his grave years ago. They were given the option to move his body back to the US but their family voted against it; it was too painful for Joe’s parents the first time and they didn’t want to go through that again.
  • They have a family plot at the cemetery in their home town. Joe’s parents and brother are buried there, and there is a statue of St. Joseph there in honor of Joe.
  • They knew that Joe was formerly a Sergeant, and also why he was listed as a Private. Not long before D-Day, Joe asked to be removed from his position because he didn’t want to be responsible for leading the men of his platoon to their deaths. For me, this was the best part of the conversation. Grandpa was SO concerned that someone had made a mistake on Joe’s records; he KNEW Joe was supposed to be a Sergeant. Finding out the real story would set his mind at ease.

The next day I called my Grandparents. I spoke to Gram and told her the whole story. She knew about my blog post but not about the letter I sent, so I had a bit of explaining to do. We agreed that she should be the one to tell Grandpa because he has a hard time hearing on the telephone these days. Yesterday I got this email from Gram:

Hello dear Heather - your letter was beautiful what a nice job you did we will keep that forever. Grandpa was very pleased. it was a terrible time for him when he got home you could not walk behind him unless to keep talking so we did & he came out of it very well thank God but never forgot his friend. we have had a beautiful life together. [Heather's note - they've been married for 61 years!]

Please forgive Gram’s lack of punctuation, etc. She only went to the 3rd grade and I’m thrilled with the fact that she’s 86 and can email me! Anyway, I know that Grandpa is relieved that after all these years, Joe’s family knows how much Joe meant to him. I don’t know where things will go from here but I expect there will be a few letters exchanged. I’ll see Gram and Grandpa later this summer and I’m sure we’ll talk about it more then.

I know this post is long … if you’ve hung in ‘til now thank you. Family history is extremely important to me and this whole experience has been amazing. The sense of relief I feel is unbelievable; I’m glad that I can give something to Grandpa that he truly values.


Lezlie said...

That is such a great story! Thanks for sharing it!!


Lauren said...

That is a wonderful story! It's amazing how thing just seem to work out. Thank you so much for sharing!

Amy said...

What an amazing gift to give your grandfather! I'm so impressed with your detective work!

Michelle said...

What a fantastic story! That's amazing!

Tanya said...

That's awesome. I'm so glad you could help your grandfather out. It must have been amazing to Joe's family to realize that there is someone outside his family that still thinks of him.

chicklet said...

A granny who can email is awesome in itself, but getting that pic, that's way too cool.

Dewey said...

I'm also very impressed with your grandmother's internet skills at age 86! I hear people in their 40s claim they're too old to understand computers, which results in an instant loss of respect from me!

And this was a great read! Wonderful story.

Heather Johnson said...

Thank you all for the wonderful comments. I've been blessed with a wonderful family and I truly do appreciate them. I love when things work out the way you hope they will!

DC said...

Wow! This is an amazing story!! What a small world.

LisaMM said...

How incredible that someone's grandma kept scrapbooks, and then someone noticed the name there (even though they were no relation) and then emailed it to you.. it's such a 'needle in a haystack' kind of thing. The power of the internet is so amazing. What a great story, and what a wonderful gift for both Joe's family and your grandpa. Good job, Heather!

tanabata said...

What a great story! Thanks for sharing it.

bermudaonion said...

The email from your grandmother brought tears to my eyes.

avisannschild said...

I second what bermudaonion said! This is a beautiful post--thanks for highlighting it as part of BBAW. I'm also an Ancestry (and family history) fan, so I'm particularly interested in this type of story!

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