My Grandpa, Nick Fontana, met Joe Tofinchio when they were in the Army together. They became great friends, and Grandpa even brought Joe home to meet his family before they shipped out to England. After training there for what seemed like forever, they found out that they would be part of the assault on German-occupied France (aka D-Day). On June 6, 1944 they landed on Utah Beach. Three days into the fight, Grandpa got word that Joe had been killed. After 35 days of combat, Grandpa was injured in the leg by exploding shrapnel and he was sent to England to recuperated.
Grandpa didn't know much about Joe's family, and it was years before he made it home himself. By the time he did get home he was engaged to my Grandma, Eileen Hunt, who he'd met in England and he was busy trying to get her over to the US so they could get married. Years and years went by during which he often thought about Joe.
Around 2004 or so my extended family took a trip to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virgina. While we were there we helped Grandpa look up Joe's name in their files. Grandpa was furious when he found out that Joe was listed as a Private - Grandpa KNEW he'd been a Sergeant. That mistake bothered him tremendously and it came up in conversation many times over the next few years. In 2008 I decided to do a bit of digging and see what I could find out about Joe. Through an amazing set of circumstances I eventually got in contact with Joe's surviving sister and brother. I exchanged letters with them and spoke to them on the phone. It was unbelievable and fantastic. I was able to share with them all the memories Grandpa had of Joe (Grandpa is hard of hearing and can't talk on the phone all that well, so I talked to them and passed messages back and forth) and tell them that Joe is still remembered all these years later. They in turn were able to clarify the story of Joe's move from Sergeant to Private; apparently he asked to be demoted because he didn't feel comfortable leading his men into the battle on D-Day since he felt it would be a death sentence for them. This news gave Grandpa a huge amount of peace, knowing that the official records hadn't made a mistake.
I was also able to learn that a man in France takes care of Joe's grave in Normandy as part of a project that pairs local families with the graves of American soldiers. This was yet another thing that gave us all a great sense of peace and comfort, knowing that someone we (and Joe) didn't know cares enough to keep up Joe's grave.
I hope that you will take time today and throughout the year to remember the people like Joe who didn't come home from war. These men and women left behind families who had to go on without them. Years go by and fewer and fewer people are left to remember them, especially fallen soldiers from long ago wars. I never knew Joe Tofinchio but I remember him today.
If you have a minute I'd love for you to listen to the words of this song. I can't help but think of Joe whenever I hear it, and it always makes me think of all the men and women whose memories are slowly fading away.