There are many aspects of what we do that are very satisfying. We are in one of the helping professions, which provides us with the sense of purpose necessary for ongoing enthusiasm and commitment. We are grateful for that, but it does not compare to the honor for us in working with so many people whose quiet humility hides their own records of bravery and sacrifice. Indeed, in a time when the word hero has been so overused as to render it meaningless, we are reminded that real heroes exist, that they live unobtrusively among us, and that we are fortunate when they cross our paths.
Recently, the celebrated British military historian, Saul David, included one of our closest friends in his book Crucible of Hell: The Heroism and Tragedy of Okinawa, 1945*. Sal Giammanco came to Brooklyn with his family from Sicily. When the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor, Sal wasted no time volunteering for the “elite 2nd Marine Raiders.” Sal did not have to go to the front lines at Okinawa, since he had already served at Bougainville and had been wounded. When “Love Day” came around, he “had been overseas for more than two years and was due leave. When it was canceled because the next operation was imminent, he was offered the chance to stay with the rear echelon. He refused, saying he could never think of leaving his squad when they were about to go into action.”
Sal saw the Japanese sniper whose “bullet hit him in the left side of his chest, narrowly missing his heart, puncturing his lung and exiting through his back. The impact spun him around and as he fell, his rifle and two boxes of ammunition went flying.” David captures Sal’s personality perfectly when he reports that, rather than complain about his wounds and the likelihood of his own imminent death, he became angered about being shot “without my permission.”
We had the honor of joining Sal and his family multiple times at the annual Marine Corps Birthday celebration. He was a true friend, and while Saul David’s account ably honors Sal and the many other true heroes who served at the three-month-long battle of Okinawa, we know that he did not and could not tell the half of what they did. Thank you Sal, and thank you to all of those who have served. We owe you a debt that can never be repaid.
*David, Saul. Crucible of Hell: The Heroism and Tragedy of Okinawa, 1945, Hachette Books, New York, 2020, pp. 19–20.