Corners mark military service of Medford brothers
MEDFORD - One by one, Richard Maietta’s five older brothers left their two-family home at 42 Bow St. to serve in World War II.
Anthony, 24, joined the Army on Oct. 14, 1941, just two months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 70 years ago this December. Joseph, 23, followed him into the Army seven months later. By August, three other brothers would leave: Horace to the Army, William to the Navy, and Saverio to the Coast Guard.
“I was in Tufts School, probably in the second grade,’’ recalled Richard, now 78, in a low voice. “My mother was crying. My father was trying to console her. My father, he was a great patriot. He was the type of guy, if he heard the national anthem, he’d stand right up.’’
In another south Medford neighborhood, Elizabeth Rapallo, then 19, said goodbye to four brothers: Fred, Stephen, Frank, and Edward. A cousin, Joe Rapallo, also went off to serve. Her future husband, Stephen Cammarata, called after their first date to say he was joining the Marines and heading for the South Pacific.
“It was no surprise,’’ said Elizabeth Rapallo Cammarata, now 89, who was married to her “handsome hero’’ for 64 years. “That’s what everyone did. . . . They joined the war.’’
Medford bestows a special honor on veterans’ families whose siblings served together in World War II. At a family’s request, street corners near childhood homes may be named for them. Since 2007, four “hero corners’’ have been dedicated. Fortunato Brothers Corner, at Stanley and College avenues, honors seven brothers. Santoro Brothers Corner, at Main Street and Wheeler Avenue, honors eight brothers. Rapallo Family Corner was dedicated at Bow Street and Frederick Avenue, across from the family’s home at 10-12 Frederick Ave. Maietta Brothers Corner was dedicated last month, at Bow Street and Shapley Avenue, on an unusually warm October day.
“While the brothers served, the family back home did whatever was necessary to support the war effort,’’ Mayor Michael J. McGlynn said in remarks at the ceremony. “That type of sacrifice and dedication resonated here in Medford.’’
Richard Maietta, the youngest of the 11 Maietta siblings, requested the corner for his brothers. The city surprised him by recognizing his service in the Korean War, where he served in the Army from 1953 to 1955.
“I really wanted it for my brothers,’’ he said. “I thought they should be remembered. We were lucky. All of them came home.’’
Medford sent 10,514 residents into World War II, or about 17 percent of its 63,083 population in 1940, according to city and federal census data. The names of all who served, including the 224 residents killed in action, are listed on a World War II memorial on Winthrop Street.
Some graduated from high school before being drafted. But others dropped out to enlist, with some teens even fudging their ages. They were children of the Great Depression, but they grew up in wartime.
“I remember standing in line for peanut butter and eggs,’’ said Alice Rapallo, 79, the widow of Ed Rapallo, recalling wartime food rationing. “My mother would send me down to get a place in line. I was 11 years old.’’
“We had to shut out all the lights so the enemy couldn’t see us,’’ recalled Cammarata, the ninth of 10 Rapallo children. “They would go around at night shouting ‘lights out, lights out, lights out.’ Then we had these air raid practices. Everyone would have to go down to the basement.’’
Air raid drills and food rationing were part of the harsh reality of war on the home front. Young girls like Elizabeth Rapallo helped entertain soldiers and sailors at USO dances. But letters sent to brothers and boyfriends often never made it overseas.
The Maietta brothers were born to Saverio (Sam) and Catherine, Italian immigrants who first settled in Boston’s North End. Sam owned three meat markets in Somerville and Medford, where the family moved to Bow Street in 1924.
“Even today, we still call it ‘the house,’ ’’ said Joan Kurker, 55, Richard’s daughter. “That’s where the family gathered.’’
Catherine Maietta spent much of her time in the kitchen, baking bread and cooking for her large clan. On Sunday, the family would walk to 7 a.m. Mass at St. Clement’s Church, and then sit down for macaroni and gravy.
“Everyone had to be sitting down by noon,’’ Richard said. “We were all close.’’
Catherine waited each day for Patrick, the Irish mailman, to deliver letters from her sons. She sent them care packages, filled with salami tightly packed from her husband’s market, and her homemade sauce.
“I don’t think they were ordinary care packages,’’ Kurker said with a smile.
She never got the chance to welcome her sons home. In 1944, at age 47, Catherine Maietta died of cancer in the home she loved so well.
“I got a letter from my older sister, Lena,’’ William Maietta, 87, said by telephone from his home in Florida. “When I got the letter, I was in shock.’’
Their sister Marie, only 14, left junior high school to assume her mother’s duties.
“She put her whole life on hold for the family,’’ Kurker said of her aunt, who lived in the family home until her death a few years ago. “She was remarkable. . . . She thought of herself last.’’
Four of the boys returned home to join their father’s meat business. Horace got a scholarship to Harvard and became a doctor, specializing in research. But tragedy struck again in 1974 and 1975 when Joseph, Horace, and Saverio all died from heart problems. A decade later, Anthony died. As the only surviving brother who served in World War II, William Maietta is humbled by the hometown salute.
“I just don’t like to talk about the war,’’ he said, his voice breaking. “But I feel very proud that this corner is named for us. I think my brothers and I deserved it. . . . The sacrifices my mother went through, I’m happy for her.’’
The Rapallo Family Corner - honoring four brothers, a cousin, and a brother-in-law - evokes patriotism and pride in that family, too.
Fred Rapallo - who requested the honor on behalf of his family - served in the Navy on the USS Santee, an aircraft carrier hit by a Japanese Kamikaze pilot in the Philippines, killing 16 on board.
“The whole plane came dead in the center of the ship,’’ recalled Fred, 91, seated in his Medford dining room, where an ink drawing of the ship hangs on a wall. “At the same time, a torpedo hit. The ship was able to stay afloat because we just threw everything overboard.’’
When the Santee was taken to Manus Island for repair, Fred had a chance reunion with his brother Steve, a SeaBee who was helping rebuild the South Pacific island.
“I didn’t know he was there, but he knew that I was on the Santee,’’ Fred said. “He came to the ship asking for me. He wanted to know if I was still alive.’’
The brothers embraced on the ship’s deck.
“I didn’t even recognize him, he had lost so much weight,’’ Fred said. “I took him down below to meet the guys and have a meal. He later took me with him, to show me the roads and bridges he had built.’’
Steven Cammarata, who died earlier this year, served four years without a furlough. When he returned home, his future wife had something to say to him.
“I said ‘I have not seen or heard from you in four years,’ ’’ Elizabeth Rapallo Cammarata recalled. “He said he did write, but I didn’t get the letters. You didn’t sometimes get letters, and if you did, they were censored and had things crossed out. They used to say ‘a slip of a lip could sink a ship.’ ’’
Joe Rapallo, now 91 and living in Wakefield, was an infantryman at Guadalcanal in 1942. He kept a bit of Medford close to his heart. His cousin, Bernadette, had sent him an Our Lady of the Miraculous medal to keep him safe.
He was fighting on the front line when his jeep crashed into another vehicle. A Catholic chaplain spotted the gold medal around his neck.
“He blessed it right there,’’ Rapallo said in his raspy voice. “I have worn it every day since.’’