re: Pete Zarlengo, 94, and the late brother, WWII Dominic Zarlengo, WWII brothers and war heroes. (#MemorialDay tribute to Dominic Zarlengo, at this website)
To continue, my encounters with my neighbor, Pete, I found him often at the Post Office across the street. For every letter sent, he seemed to have a reply. And many correspondences. He shared he was “Dad” to impoverished World Vision girls overseas and either sent $100 via World Vision or wrote a letter to see how the family was doing. Even at a Tuesday coffee hour, he brought out his scrapbook of his girls, the name of country, and a photograph. From Mexico, Colombia, to Africa, Romania. Over thirty! Pete didn’t seem to slow down in his correspondence. So that explained the “Dad” tributes in the inset outside his apartment door.
One day, he said to me, “I have 56 kids.”
I knew nothing of his family, so this was surprising and interesting. Pete had a big heart. When we finally talked about family, his trips to the Post Office, his daily devotions and Mass, I knew this was a special neighbor. And he had survived the 1944 Normandy invasion into France, on a LST which suffered a collision, and forced to carry the wounded from the Normandy beaches back to England. He counted 28 trips! And many close calls in rugged weather and rough seas. With the upcoming 75th anniversary of D-Day, Pete says there are just two remaining from his war LST tanker ship. (Please see the long story of the LST510 and Pete’s war experiences on this blog. Later in 2015, Pete did return to Normandy.)
Pete worked in the Arctic Circle for several years, post-war, and endured the bitter cold. He enjoyed warm cruises to Tahiti, Europe, and took one trip to see his World Vision family in Latin America. He loved the sunshine. Even today, he will sit in the hot sun and read his book, with a towel around his neck.
I found myself on the long, empty, sandy beaches of Normandy in 1960. We drove out from Paris, and at first, the panoramic vista, the enormous sites of white crosses on the manicured grassy knolls, the German pill boxes, was just too much to comprehend. The beaches and cliffs were hallowed ground. There are more re-enactments today by the French, American historians D-Day tours, and official ceremonials marking this infamous day in world history. June 6, 1944. More film documentaries and stories on educational television in Europe and America. The sharing of war stories is far more common today, as part of the healing and expression of the servicemen and women. In 1960, the Vietnam War was escalating, and I happened to be on my way to Istanbul as a student. The significance of those Normandy beaches did not resonate then, to me, as they do today.
So, Pete had a large family of his own. After the war, and some assignments, he returned to Colorado, without his WWII brother, started a farm in northeast Colorado. He loved operating machinery, farm equipment, in fact, lost a partial finger doing so. Having been raised in the orphanage with his brother, Dominic, his sister and father were still alive in 1946. Coming home from war is always a formidable adjustment, and for Pete, raising a family — something he never had growing up was paramount. He had seven children of his own. All girls and one boy.
About his wife, he said in a long, deliberate tone, “She left me.”
None of the details on this tragedy are known to me. There was nothing comforting to say to Pete, for you could see the hurt and pain these many years later. “I’m sorry.” This loss was far greater than any loss he might have experienced in wartime. I am not sure, for he remains reticent. Both had been turning points in his long, modest, yet quietly courageous, always dignified life. A life of devout faith, of extended families, of duty to his country, of kindness to strangers, while uttering, ‘every day is a good day.’ What a good neighbor!
Many blessings to this D-Day survivor at age 94 on the 75th anniversary of June 6, 1944.
(c)2019 nancy vorkink machin