On Memorial Day: A Look Into My Family Scrapbook
May 22, 2009, 05:00 AM
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When the United States entered World War II in 1941, my father Giuseppe —an Italian immigrant—worked at North American Aviation, then a major aircraft manufacturer.

In the years leading up to the war, Dad's main responsibility was working on the P-51 Mustang assembly line located at North American Aviation's Long Beach facility.

During the war's middle years, nearly 16,000 of the durable, single-seat, long-range fighters were manufactured and sent airborne. Most aviation historians consider the P-51 the era's best American fighter plane.

Like the other 90,000 North American Aviation employees, Dad had an II-A occupational deferment.

My uncle, five years younger than my father and born in New York, didn't serve overseas either, although not for lack of trying.

Upon graduating from Princeton University, Walter went to enlist in the Army. But, told he was colorblind, Walt couldn't join.

Undeterred, Walt decided to pursue a career in the Army Military Intelligence Service.

As a first step, the Army enrolled him in the University of Chicago. Because Walt had a strong academic background, he was put in a class to learn Mandarin. But before beginning, the university advised Walt that he had to demonstrate some evidence that he knew a smattering of Chinese.

Walt walked to the closest Chinese laundry to ask the proprietor to teach him how to count to ten.

Even though Walt's tutoring was in Cantonese, that was good enough for the Army hard pressed to find linguists.

Next, after mastering Mandarin, the Army assigned Walt to Fort Riley, Kansas to learn to ride horses and mules. That was quite a feat for a city boy from the Bronx. His small class was taken along dark, rocky jungle roads in preparation for their ultimate destination: the Burma Road.

Just before being shipped out, Walt went to Washington, D.C. headquarters for a final briefing. At the last minute, his superiors made the decision that because of Walt's language skills, he could do more for the war effort at home by translating sensitive documents.

In the meantime my Sicilian grandmother, who followed my father to California, was broken- hearted when Italy entered the war on the Axis side.

Although my grandmother was by this time an American citizen and a devout Franklin Delano Roosevelt supporter, Italy's betrayal embittered her toward her native country.

On Memorial Day, my family's role in World War II is much on my mind. Although no one experienced combat, all played their part.

They were assimilated Italians that loved America—true immigrants, true patriots.

Of the dozens of things that are so frustrating about our non-stop battle for immigration sanity, the most infuriating is the deliberate misuse by the mainstream media and the ethnocentric lobbyists, of the word "immigrant".

During my nearly quarter of a century fighting the immigration fight, I'm annoyed a lot of the time—more than my doctor would say is healthy.

I've been exasperated when I visited my mother in immigrant-dominated Los Angeles, when my English as a Second Language students resisted learning, when open borders advocate Bruce Springsteen put a damper on my night out, when immigration-driven sprawl changed my old Lodi hometown from a sleepy agriculture hamlet into a San Francisco bedroom community, when I went to the medical clinic and when I heard the term "in the shadows" while looking out at a sea of illegal aliens on every Lodi street corner.

But when reporters and their editors use "immigrant" purposely to describe illegal aliens in an effort to evoke sympathy and spur readers into pro-open borders activism, my blood boils.

In truth, I define "an immigrant" much more personally than even the word's specific definition.

I use "immigrant" to describe not only an individual who entered the U.S. legally but who also has assimilated.

When someone comes to America but continues to live as if he were still in his native country, then what purpose is served? If you ask me, that immigrant is just taking up a parking space.

On Memorial Day last year, I wrote about my English as a second language class. As the holiday approached, I reviewed with my students our schedule for the remaining two weeks of school.

When I wrote on the board, "Monday, Memorial Day, No Class" I questioned how many students understood the significance that the holiday holds for them.

I was disappointed but not surprised when no one knew anything about Memorial Day.

Although my class consisted of many recently sworn-in American citizens, some of whom had studied the Civil and World Wars, Memorial Day drew a blank.

What a pity. Most of these legal immigrants dream about coming to America. Yet when they get here, they live a life indistinguishable—save for HDTV— from the one they lived in their native country.

Essentially, unassimilated immigrants ignore the tens of thousands of heroic soldiers who fought and died during dozens of wars over countless decades to preserve the American ideals of freedom and justice.

When I hear "immigrant," I remember the Guzzardi immigrant family—proud Americans that passionately embraced their new country.

If only all immigrants adopted America as fervently as my ancestors did, then the nation today would be a better, less contentious place.

Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.