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Sgt Jim LaFerla
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Birth: Jun. 22, 1918
Death: Mar. 7, 1945

By James Martin Davis
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The writer is an Omaha lawyer and a Vietnam combat veteran. This is the 31st year he has written a Memorial Day op-ed for The World-Herald.

At 9 a.m. on a March Saturday in 1945, a black sedan pulled up outside the Bell & Laferla grocery. The driver parked his car and entered the store.

Once inside, he handed a Western Union telegram to John Laferla, the store's proprietor. This telegram notified him that on March 5, 1945, his oldest son, Jim Laferla, had been seriously wounded in Europe.

The shock from the news sucked the air from John's lungs. His chest ached inside and out, as if a tourniquet were strangling his heart. Worse still, he had to convey to Jim's mother, Angelina, Jim's two sisters, Ida and Mary, and Jim's little brother, Joe, this unbearable news.

All morning and afternoon, a paralyzed family worried and wondered. How bad was he wounded? Would he survive? Would they ever see Jim again?

It wasn't long before they got their answers. At 7 p.m. that night, that same black sedan reappeared. That second War Department telegram read: "We regret to inform you that your son, S. Sgt. Jim Laferla, died of wounds on March 7, 1945."

These cryptic words crushed Jim's family. His family would never be the same again. Tragically, this scene was repeated over and over again in every city and town during World War II.

Jim's parents were naturalized Americans who loved America, and who had emigrated from Italy to America to seek the golden dream. Jim's sister, Ida, was my mother, so Jim was my uncle. My mother named me after him.

I grew up hearing wonderful stories about my uncle and what a terrific, ambitious, fun-loving guy he had been. Grief and sadness echoed from these stories.

After the war, Jim's name was etched on a white marble wall on top of Memorial Park. Every time I traveled Dodge Street with my grandparents, my grandmother's eyes would well up. She would point a quivering finger at the memorial and remind me in a trembling voice, "That is Jimmy's monument."

To my family, Jim's name upon that wall could scarcely compensate them for their loss. Their pain was so sharp and their anguish so permanent. While Jim suffered for two days before he died, his family would suffer forever. His death was a sacrifice that no family should ever have to bear, but it is a price that America's families have to pay when our country goes to war.

When my mother and my grandmother learned that I was going to Vietnam, they worried and became frantic. The similarities between my uncle and me made their fears understandable. My name was Jim, and I, too, was an oldest son. What's more, like my uncle, I was an infantryman, and I was to serve in the same division as my uncle.

Like most baby boomers, I grew up in the shadow of World War II. Like me, most of my friends had fathers who were veterans. Yet, all we knew about war was the movie version. We pictured war as glamorous and romantic.

Only after I became a soldier did I experience the mind-numbing reality of war. It was nothing like any movie I had ever seen. I learned up close that there is nothing romantic about war.

In war, while victory is the goal, death is the everyday consequence. To think our soldiers can kill without some of them being killed is a delusion. Victory never comes at bargain prices. All wars are bleeding wars, and the death of so many of our soldiers is the crimson-red testament to that fact.

The reality is that, while some soldiers die as heroes, most do not die gloriously. They die young, and they die tired. They die alone in the dirt, the dust and the mud. They die with their limbs blown off or from multiple shrapnel wounds, from booby traps or roadside bombs or, like my uncle, from agonizing and infectious gunshots to the stomach. While only a few of them are heroes, all of them are saints. They gave all of their tomorrows so we could have today.

My uncle and I both served in the 4th Infantry Division. As in his war, my division suffered inevitable casualties. When we lost one of our own, we lamented the loss, but combat soldiers are given little time to mourn. Soldiers are not permitted to cry. Tears are unmanly. Even if given permission, most of us had long forgotten how to cry. What we felt first was guilt. The sorrow came later.

Yet, despite my superficial toughness, my heart would hemorrhage when I thought about what the loss of these soldiers would mean to their families. I had witnessed firsthand what the death of my uncle had done to my family, so I knew what that unspeakable loss would do to theirs.

War took lives not only from my unit, it stole lives from my past. In Vietnam, I lost friends from my neighborhood, from my parish, from my baseball and football teams and friends from every school I ever attended. What made it worse was that I knew so many of their families. Like the grief that overwhelmed my family a generation before, their unrelenting agony would linger with them for a lifetime.

Today is the last Monday in May. We call it Memorial Day. It is a day when America pays tribute to those soldiers who were as humble as they were heroic, and whom America asked to accept the fate of eternal loneliness.

It is a day of solace when we need to remember their families as well. For them, Memorial Day is not a day of celebration, it is a day of suffering and sadness.

If we join hands with them and share in their mourning, we demonstrate that their country still cares. When we grieve with them, even for a moment, we help ease the burden of their undeserved pain. It is the least America can give to them, since they have given so much to America.

On Friday, on behalf of Jim's family, I went to the cemetery to decorate his grave. Of course, the family he knew is now gone. His brother Joe, who died last year, was the last to go. Now, they all rest in Calvary Cemetery in close proximity to Jim. After all these years, Jim has finally been reunited with his family.

In honor of his service and in tribute to his sacrifice, I knelt down and placed a flag next to Jim's gravestone. The American flag meant so much to Jim and his family. In life, he saluted it; in death, it was draped over his casket. When he was buried, it was presented to his parents "on behalf of a grateful nation."

Today, that same flag floats over land and sea, and it is known and recognized throughout the Earth. That flag has become the symbol of freedom to the entire world because we have had soldiers willing to die in distant lands in the past and the present to preserve the freedom of others.

We are a free nation still, only because we have had soldiers like my uncle who were willing to fight and to die to keep others from robbing us of the liberty we guard. Because of those soldiers, not a single stripe has ever been removed nor a single star ever erased from the tricolored flag of our Republic.

We owe an enormous debt to these soldiers and to their families. Every Memorial Day, that debt becomes due.

Family links: 
  John Laferla (____ - 1964)
  Angelina LaFerla (1900 - 1981)
  Jim LaFerla (1918 - 1945)
  Joseph P. Laferla (1930 - 2009)*
*Calculated relationship
Holy Sepulchre Cemetery
Douglas County
Nebraska, USA
Created by: Loren Bender
Record added: Jun 29, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 72191244
Sgt Jim LaFerla
Added by: Loren Bender
Sgt Jim LaFerla
Added by: Loren Bender
Sgt Jim LaFerla
Added by: Loren Bender
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Thank you for your service to our country,because of you,and men like you,WE, The People of The United States of America will ALWAYS enjoy FREEDOM !! Rest in peace.
- Loren Bender
 Added: Jun. 29, 2011

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