IN THE MIDST OF WAR, MEDIC DELIVERS BABY

THE HUMAN RACE

 

FROM GEN. MacARTHUR’S WAR TO HELPING A POOR KID

 “Respect the living, pray for the dead,

and try to honor those you leave behind.”

                         Vince Migliazzo,

                               World War II Army Medic

 

     Many years ago, a poverty-stricken teenager named John Arrillaga who had nothing to wear for his senior class photo at Morningside High School in Inglewood, Calif. So vice-principal Vince Migliazzo not only gave him the shirt off his back, but removed his tie and blazer in exchange for the youngster’s letterman sweater, which he wore for the entire day.       

     The irony: John Arrillaga is now a billionaire. And he won’t let Vince forget it.

     At a recent high school reunion, the real estate mogul reminded Vince of his act of benevolence and asked the retired educator, “What kind of shopping mall can I buy you?” Of course, he was joking.

     “No big deal,” recalled Vince who’s now in his late 80s. “John and his family were surviving on bags of potatoes.”

     America was in the midst of World War II when Vince at 18 was drafted into the Army. Serving as a medic, he first experienced the fear of death when he came across the bodies of four dead GI’s on the beach. That was during the 1944 invasion of the island of Leyte in the Philippines.

     “Until that moment,” he said, “life in the army for me was like being in the Boy Scouts. After a while, you kind of learn to blot out the bad stuff and just do your job.” Yet he still remembers the stench of death, the cries of wounded soldiers.

     In the midst of a crowd of GIs and Filipino fighters, Vince witnessed Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s historic return to the Philippines on Oct. 20, 1944. The general, he recalled, came off a stranded whale boat (landing barge) and waded ashore at the Island of Leyte’s Red Beach. Despite periodic sniper fire, MacArthur climbed onto the bed of a signal-corps truck and made his memorable speech: “People of the Philippines, I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”

     Vince recalls the general’s speech actually began with: “This is the voice of freedom…” Although he didn’t witness the “reenactment” of the arrival, the scuttle-butt was MacArthur waded to shore a second time up the beach from the original site later that day or the following day. “But I didn’t see it,” he emphasized.

     But he did witness the ravages of war. In Ormoc, where two regiments of the 24th Infantry Division bore the blunt of the battle of Breakneck Ridge, in three weeks 700 Americans were killed.

     In Carigara, a northern coastal town in Leyte, as the war raged around him, the young Italian-American medic helped deliver a baby girl named Leah Cabales. For decades after the war he communicated with the girl and her family.

     During the battle of Jolo, an island in the southwest Philippines, just before he was struck in the back by shrapnel, Pvt. Jiminez, a mortally wounded buddy, fell across him. “When I went to push him off of me, my hand sunk into the cavity of his wound. I’ll never forget feeling the warm blood.”

     The lesson he brought back from the war was this: “Respect the living, pray for the dead, and try to honor those you leave behind…”

     Former Tech Sgt. Vince Migliazzo, a Purple Heart veteran, is one of a dwindling number of living World War II infantrymen, many whom seldom speak of the painful experiences they encountered so many years ago.

     “Every person, young and old, who goes through the hell of combat, whether it’s World War II or in Afghanistan, must live with those memories for the rest of their lives.”

     Whether you’re giving a student the shirt off your back, trying to save the life of a dying GI, helping deliver a baby in a combat zone, or “just” carting bodies from ravaged battlegrounds, the realities of self-sacrifice remain forever imbedded in the hearts and minds of every person regardless of their silence.

     Vince and his wife, Beverly, reside in Los Angeles. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

 

 

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