Dove sei tu, luce, e il mattino
Ed Note: We are re-publishing this Guest Blog in honor of John J. Fallon who passed away on May 2 2021. You can read his obituary here.
In 1940, I was 16 and living in France, surrounded by family and friends. I was just the right age to think of life as a love story. I was a romantic, a practical romantic. Love, like life, should not be so fickle. What good is love that is changeable? What good is love that wilts in adversity, that endures only for a night or a week? I wanted a love that never dies, a love that’s constant, passionate, erotic, exotic, energizing, thundering like the ocean waves. I would find love one day.
I knew what I wanted. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. From the day I was fifteen my family had picked the man I should marry. He owned a farm in Corgoloin. I knew I could not love him.
Then Italy declared war on France. It was June 11, 1940.
This was Hitler’s madness reaching into Italy and France, and into our lives. I had lived all but the first two years of my life in France – but now we Italians had become the enemy. The Vichy government who had laid down their arms before the hated German occupiers were now to deport Italians because Mussolini allied them with the Germans. Four months after the Germans entered France, we were on board a train on our way back to Italy through Germany.
I would live throughout the war in Italy, the land of my birth, but not my childhood home. I found work in the Mayor’s office of my new little town of Rezzato, in Italy. I was happy, enjoying my work, helping the people.
Life was quiet, tranquil – except when the bombing and strafing came. The darkness of the town dimmed our spirits. It was as if everyone were hiding; no one wanted to be seen. Then the flares lit up the whole town. We were easy targets. When our office was bombed, I was hurled through the glass door. I still have a scar under my right arm. But I was there in my little town when the lights went on again.
We lived and we prevailed.
By the spring of 1945, the Allies had won the war in Italy, and the Germans were reeling under the constant surge of troops, guns, tanks, all equipment of war, and the endless waves of air assaults. They were beaten on all fronts. It was unconditional surrender. The World War was not over. In the Pacific, Japan was holding out.
But the Americans were already at the magnificent Italian mountains at the Swiss border. Their mission was completed. They stopped to rest in beautiful little cities like Merano, Stresa, and Bolzano. There was great jubilation.
I was in the Mayor’s office when the Americans came into my town.
That’s when I met John.
After months of fighting the Germans throughout Italy, my division – the 88th Infantry Division, Fifth Army Campaign – joined up with our beleaguered troops pinned down at Anzio and two weeks later, together, we entered Rome. The Eternal City was the first Axis capitol to fall. It was June 4, 1944. It was a day of great jubilation. It was a morale-boosting success. But we still had a year of work ahead of us.
My division stayed in Italy for a time. My broken knowledge of Italian proved especially useful when I visited the Mayor’s Office in Rezzato. Before I got to the office, my friend Edgar Weimar stopped me. Now, he looked particularly happy.
“There’s a beautiful girl in the Mayor’s office. She’s one of the secretaries there. Her name is Gina.” Then he said it again, “John, she’s a beautiful girl. You’ve got to meet her.”
I looked at Edgar and tried to figure him out. When we were in the barracks in Camp Gruber in Oklahoma, instead of coming with me to our Thursday night choir practice, he stayed to help the new soldiers who were mopping up our barracks. He didn’t have to. He was just a nice guy.
I said, “Edgar, if she’s so great, why are you selecting me to meet her?”
He said, “John, I have a girlfriend back home in Texas.”
I said, “OK, Edgar, but let me talk to her all by myself.”
I had official reasons to go to Gina’s office. The soldiers billeted in the Palazzo Finaroli needed a meeting place for talks, movies, as well as training sessions, and a sports center for outside games. The town had both, but the Mayor’s permission was needed.
That was how I became part of Gina’s story.
I was struggling with my Italian. Even as Gina was speaking Italian, I detected a touch of French, which I had studied in school and had used during the short time I had been stationed in North Africa.
“Parle francais?” I asked.
She burst out in a torrent of happy words.
I didn’t understand a word of what she was saying.
“Parle doucement, s’il vous plait,” I said.
I had many reasons to go back to the office. I always made sure to go to her desk. I mixed a little business with my visit. I didn’t want the mayor or any of the others to think I was disrupting their business and using the time of a busy secretary.
Visiting Gina in her office, however, was far easier than visiting Gina in her home. Gina was the only daughter of a father who was missing in the war, a strict father who would not countenance a soldier courting his daughter. We were watched by Gina’s mother and Nonna as we looked at some of the many books and magazines that she had. In two days, we knew we had a lot in common. She spoke a little English with such a beautiful accent. Conversation came easily.
Then, I asked her to the Officers’ Dance that Saturday. She could go, but only if she were back by eleven and accompanied by her seventeen-year-old brother, Tino.
An Officers’ Ball was magnificent. The dance floor was well-decorated and the music was romantic. When Gina and I got up to dance, the soldiers’ little dog followed us around. Tino was happy – he loved eating the pistachio ice cream. Gina and I were happy in the joy of our new friendship.
I talked about my family. I told her how honest and trusting my father was. Gina said: “It’s hard to be honest and truthful in war time.”
At eleven o’clock precisely, despite my clumsy handling of the jeep, Gina and her brother were back home. That’s how I got to know Gina.
Then, without warning, I received orders to report to a division that was preparing to go to war in the Pacific. I had thoughts that when I would be going through the Panama Canal on the way to the Pacific, I would be as close as I’d ever get again to my home in Brooklyn, to my parents, my sisters, and all who loved me. The thought that was most in my mind was that I was leaving Gina.
I didn’t know how to say good-bye. I couldn’t promise anything about the future. I was standing in front of her, looking into her eyes. I put my arms around her. I held her close.
I turned slowly. I walked away.
I didn’t look back.
Gina Carries On…
After John left Rezzato, I knew that he was in a camp in the south of Italy preparing to go to the war that was still raging in Japan. He sent me a letter and a gift that was delivered by a mounted soldier, one of his friends still at the Pilazzo Finaroli. When the war was over in Japan and World War II had come to a close, he was sent home to Brooklyn. He sent CARE packages, which we were happy to get.
But then the packages and letters stopped.
After what seemed a long period of silence, I heard from John again. He wrote letters but with no sense of what his intended relationship was to be. Sometimes he wrote in French. Those letters were limited by his vocabulary in French. Then he wrote in English. I took his letters to Mme. Laupert, my English teacher, to have her read them for me. I wanted her to tell me not only what he said, but who she thought he really was. She was a lady of discernment.
At one time after reading one of his letters, she said to me, “I would say he loved you. But I have to search into the words and his writing style. His letters sound like the expression of love of a philosopher or even a Protestant minister.”
I was not completely discouraged by the lack of expression of that lusty love that sometimes can be overpowering. But if he had been more ardent in his expressions, I’m sure I would have felt better.
Meanwhile, I was enjoying my life. I had moved to Zurich in Switzerland to study nursing. I was able to discover and express myself. I graduated, was offered a position, and was happy to take it. Now I had some money to prepare for my future.
A suitor appeared at my door unexpectedly – unbidden and unannounced. He was the man my family had wanted me to marry back in France before the war. He had a large vegetable farm. He was a man of substance. My family had emphasized who he was and all the bonuses there would be for me when I became his wife. But it sounded as if I were being introduced to a business venture instead of to the romance and happiness I anticipated that should come from marrying the one I loved. And suddenly, here he was in Switzerland.
I tried to see him in the best light possible. I enjoyed the two days I spent with him more than I thought I would when I first saw him and he showed all the innocence of a little boy off on a holiday. I felt sad because he was so far from being the man I wanted to marry. I told him as kindly as I could that I was not the one for him. I went with him to the train. I kissed him goodbye. I could kiss him even if I wouldn’t marry him.
John had written more. Somehow, it seemed like love. I knew we hadn’t seen each other enough to be sure.
And then it happened. John had his mother write to my mother to invite me to visit and stay with his family in New York. So he had waited for me. We both had waited.
We were married in Brooklyn three months after I arrived in the United States.
John & Gina Fallon are the authors of A REMEMBRANCE OF WORLD WAR II: AN ITALIAN-IRISH ROMANCE.
John & Gina Fallon are the authors of A Remembrance of World War II: An Italian-Irish Romance. Order your copy here: https://bit.ly/e3AtBv ABOUT THE AUTHORS Gina Sberna Fallon was born in Virle, province of Brescia in Italy. Her father, a sculptor in marble was well known in both Italy and France. When Gina was two years of age, her father took the family from Italy to France. Although Gina’s family had been welcomed in France – particularly given her father’s proficiency in marble, they were forced to return to Italy during World War II. Gina, then a teenager, had to face the challenges of more schooling, language learning, and then finding a place in her new environment. She eventually landed a position in the office of the Mayor in Rezzato. She subsequently enrolled in nursing school in Switzerland, at first taking courses in German and then later, after transfer to Neuchatel, in French. English was the next language that she mastered after moving to the United States. In order to become a nurse in the U.S., she had to once again go to nursing school. She completed the necessary classes, passed all the New York State tests, and received the license as a nurse in New York State. She worked as an assistant in a hospital in Brooklyn and later as a nurse in Ozanam Hall, a medical and residential setting in Queens for ill or disabled individuals who needed daily health care as well as for those who were living through the vicissitudes of age. When she retired after her children had completed their education, she volunteered at North Shore University Hospital in Long Island and participated in community welfare groups as well as social and church activities. She is a member of New York University’s Casa Italiana, as well as the Cellini Lodge of the Order of Sons of Italy in America. She also participates in the many Irish cultural and social organizations in which her husband is active. With her husband John, she raised three children, Donnadella, Brian, and Debra. John J. Fallon was born in Mountbellew, County Galway, Ireland. His father Anthony Fallon had left their ancestral home, Netterville Lodge, when he married in 1916. Anthony and Bridie had 4 children, Moira, John, Therese, and Magdela. John’s parents left Ireland in 1928 and brought their children over in 1929. Despite the Depression, Anthony, a lawyer, and Bridie, a legal stenographer, both were employed in a prestigious admiralty law firm in New York. John is the author of A BETTER DEED, a story of difficult times in Ireland. He is also coauthor of educational books, and articles in the local papers and in educational journals. He served in the Fourteenth Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard, and then, having registered for the draft, he was inducted into the U.S. Army before Pearl Harbor. Having served in Fort Belvoir in Virginia, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and Camp Gruber in Oklahoma, he was then sent as part of the 88th Infantry Division to North Africa and subsequently to the front lines in Italy. It was in Italy that John met Gina. At the end of World War II he worked in the Veterans Administration while preparing for a teaching position. Working with the New York City Board of Education, he became a teacher and subsequently supervisor and Principal of Bay Ridge High School in Brooklyn, New York. John belongs to several Irish organizations: The Galway Association of New York, The American Irish Teachers Association, New York University Ireland House, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He also participates in the many cultural and social Italian organizations in which Gina is active.
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