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A Story of Impact: A WWII Veteran And My Children

As I was engaged in the writing of my book, a friend of mine passed away at the ripe age of 99. Frank Tedesco, or as he was known to those who had the pleasure to be impacted by him, Lieutenant Frank Tedesco was a B24 Liberator pilot in WWII. Frank’s military and civilian accomplishments are extensive, and deserve more than a brief mention in this book. However, in honor of his legacy I will impart you with a few stories.

To set the stage, it is imperative to revisit a few or those damn statistics I promised to not revisit a chapter or two ago. In World War II, the survival rate of the bomber crews was just under 45%, and the chance of being captured was just under 8%. If you struggle at math like I do, I will save you the use of the calculator. That’s a greater than 53% chance that if you went out on a mission you would be either shot down or captured. With each and every mission, Frank had a better chance of not returning home than on completing his mission……...and he proceeded to fly 35 of these missions throughout the war.

While battling the mental demons that would naturally haunt any of us facing such odds, Frank and all of his fellow pilots battled unheated and unpressurized cockpits at altitudes that frequently experienced temperatures below zero degrees. With oxygen masks affixed to their face, pilots would often have to defrost the frozen masks upon returning to base in order to remove them. Frozen, battling unsettling odds, rattling in the cockpit from the impact of anti-aircraft guns, Frank fearlessly pressed on, destroying priceless German supply lines and fuel depots; efforts that would ensure Allied success in the war.

A few years before his passing, over a dinner with Frank and our family, following a rendition of one of his favorite tunes from the 1940’s (Yes, this son of a bitch could still sing at 95 years old!), Frank gave us a gift. The type of gift the infamous Dr. Suess would reference in one of his most famous children’s novels; “It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before”. Frank gave a gift of the heart, and conveyed the gift without knowledge or intent.

Absent of any comment, Frank walked over to an old wooden cupboard, sitting unlit in the corner of the small, unpretentious coastal home, in which we had just enjoyed dinner. From the cupboard, he pulled out an old photo album, worn in a way that clearly displayed it had spent years in an area where moisture, mold and mildew had faded and discolored it to its current state, an appearance expected for a stagnant fixture in a coastal home.

He opened the album with the sticky sound of plastic releasing its moisture formed grip from connected pages, revealing photos which visually appeared as if altered with one of many instagram filters, yet the fading and discoloration was clearly organic. As Frank sat down, he gestured to the children to come closer and at that very moment, a silence fell over the room as the thick air of anticipation weighed on all of us. With the glimpse of the first photo displaying what was clearly a cratered landscape, the aftermath of a devastating bomber run, I felt a lump rise up in my throat and a quickening of my heart rate. I knew what was about to transpire. The children, despite having no idea of the gravity of the interaction they were about to be part of, seemed to sense the same significance of the situation.

Perhaps it was a keen recognition of the grown-up response, or another intuitive perception that children seem to magically possess. Whatever it was, it was real, and in that moment, everyone in the room knew something special was about to happen.

Page by page, conscious recollections were spilled out, creating vivid imagery for the spectators in that room on that cool summer’s evening. Animated details were described, providing all of us with the firsthand experiences of the greatest generation. A man 95 years of age, shared a story with all of us in the manner and detail in which many of us would describe our workday. It was as if 65 years had been merely a blip on the memorial radar. As impressive as the retrospective accuracy was, the apogee of the evening came from the children’s ability to transpose the textbook education they had received up until that point into a real life understanding of personal sacrifice. In that very moment I watched my children grow a respect, admiration and appreciation for Frank, and for those that served in that great war.

Upon leaving Frank’s wake and saying goodbye to his family, I spoke with my children about his passing. My relationship with Frank was a short one in relation to the 99 years he spent on this earth. I had about ten get-togethers with him through a period of about 6 years. My children had even less contact. Despite that, the moments that he imparted on them were impactful enough that his passing left a scar on them and on me as well.

You can read more stories like this in my book Paint By Numbers, The Art of Fatherhood.

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