A Lost Soul Sought Harbor in the Navy

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From today's Wall Street Journal.

When Greg Mitrakas said, “Let’s join the Navy,” it was as if a light suddenly flashed on over my head; as if the sun had burst from a black cloud and illuminated the darkest corners of my dreary world.

Greg and I were teammates and best friends at Middleboro High School in southeastern Massachusetts. When I graduated in 1939, he had a year to go. That same summer my family moved to Melrose, a city just north of Boston, while Greg’s parents went off to visit Greece, their country of origin. They picked the worst of times. Hitler attacked Poland that September and invaded Greece and Yugoslavia in April 1940. Greg’s parents weren’t allowed to leave Greece and return to the U.S. Greg moved in with a married sister in New Hampshire, where he completed his senior year at Manchester Central High School. We found ourselves friendless in our new surroundings, so we sought each other out, swapping visits between Manchester and Melrose.

Most Depression-era kids, especially sons of immigrants, didn’t even think of college. We were supposed to get a job and help out the family. Consequently, I became an employee of Northeast Packing Co., a pork-processing outfit in Boston’s North End market district where my father was in charge of the cutting-room floor.

We started work at 6:30 every morning and quit at 5:30 in the evening, except on Saturdays, when we left at about 12:30. I worked on the third floor, where the fat trimmed from the cut-up hogs was rendered into lard. The hours were long, and the work was hard and nonstop Just as the abundant fat of the hog was melted into oil, so the little bit of fat my poor body possessed was rendered as sweat. I realized what was happening to me physically when, while wrestling with Greg one day, he gasped, “Grabbing a hold of you is like grabbing iron.” Beside getting a tough body, I also received $15 a week.

What was happening to my soul was an entirely different matter. I was nowhere. The future was not only bleak but nonexistent, the present unbearable. Where could I go, what could I do? It wasn’t very nice being the unhappiest person on the planet. So when Greg uttered those four magic words, the darkness lifted, the light shone, and my way was lighted. My life would have meaning: I would be serving my country.
I signed the Oath of Allegiance on Nov. 4, 1940, a date that, for me, will live not in infamy—that day would come more than a year later—but in thanksgiving.

Mr. Luti, who died in December at 98, was a teacher and running coach in Concord, N.H. He served as chief quartermaster on the USS Yorktown (CV-10), 1943-45. This article was found in his papers.
 
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