It's appropriate that I am returning today from over two weeks in Europe after spending time in two countries: one that took a beating from World War II but stood tall and prevailed - the United Kingdom - and one that remained neutral - Sweden.
Like many others, today I am honoring those who served and those who died 71 years ago on D-Day and the entire Normandy Invasion. Special thanks to the Allied troops - American, Canadian, British, Australian, New Zealand, Free French, Free Dutch, et al. - who made it happen and rescued Europe and the world.
My father's brother - my Uncle Vic - was one of those young men who was there that fateful day. He was a paratrooper - 82nd Airborne - who made a nighttime jump into France. He survived that one, and 48 other jumps over Europe.
Thank you! And a special thanks to the French people, still so welcoming and appreciative lo these many years!
Giovanni Pellegrino Campana would have been 101 today.
That name is on his birth certificate, but we knew my father as John Pilgrim Campana. Born on 6 June 1914, he was the son of Italian immigrants Consiglia and Domenico Campana, who arrived on these shores from Naples, Italy, in the late 1890s.
But his true sports love was baseball. He played shortstop and pitched on the Harvard team till he graduated in 1936. Here is the team ball signed by all the players on the 1936 team, with the cherished inscription: Harvard - 3, Yale - 0.
He started teaching in the New York City school system in 1938, a career that spanned 36 years, 26 of which were spent at Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School, the nation's second-oldest high school. He taught history and political science. He recalls EHHS students Barbra Streisand, chess champion Bobby Fischer, Neil Diamond, Billy Cunningham, and Lainie Kazan. Don't ask him about the first two. In those days, EHHS was one of the nation's best. Its top students won scholarships to the USA's finest universities. Even the top Jewish students, who for years could not get into the Ivy League schools, routinely made Princeton, Yale, and Harvard starting in the mid-1950s; African-Americans (few in number at EHHS in those days) and others soon followed. As I grew up, I remember many visits from former students who would drop by to thank him for all he had done. They told me what a remarkable teacher and man he was and how much he had helped them.
He left EHHS in 1964 to help open Canarsie High School in Brooklyn. He was the Assistant Principal, a position that earned him more money but meant no more teaching. That was a tough call for him.