“Until all the world becomes a good neighborhood, Legionnaires must continue the effort to promote peace and good will on earth.”
(8th principle, The American Legion Preamble)
Joclyn Mary Crivello has few memories of Great-Uncle Jimmy. But she can be excused. As the youngest child in her family, born to a dad the youngest in his family, there is a substantial generational gap between great uncle and grandniece.
The image of her great-uncle most imprinted into her memories is an elderly man sitting at the family restaurant with a big smile and the cramped fingers of his injured hand lying on the pink granite bar top.
Half a century before Joclyn was born, hundreds of landing craft were making their way across the English Channel in the dead of night. Among the hundreds of thousands of soldiers crammed into the boats is 22-year-old James Robert Crivello, a corporal in Company B of the 87th Chemical Warfare Battalion.
It is June 6, 1944, known in history as D-Day, a day that will change the tides of World War II and begin the end of the German occupation in Western Europe.
Conditions are not ideal. Strong winds and choppy waves buffet vessels and aggravate nerves breeding in pitch darkness. Dawn brings brief respite as soldiers soon find themselves at Utah Beach, one of the five Allied targets on the coast of Normandy.
The ramp drops, and without warning, bullets take down the first row of soldiers. Those who survive must cross 300 yards of underwater obstacles and a mine-and-barbed-wire-rigged coast before they can take down German bunkers.
Weighed down by heavy gear, with bullets whirring above and comrades falling, Corporal Crivello will survive D-Day. Four months later, he will receive an injury to his arm that will cramp up his fingers for the rest of his life.
Joclyn knew nothing of her great-uncle’s time in the war. It was only after his death that she found out about his feats, the accolades he received, and the sacrifices he made for the country.
“When you are a kid, you don’t get it.”
“If human freedom is not to perish from the earth, right must always be master of might.” (7th principle, TAL Preamble)
The only objects of war Great-Uncle Jimmy brought home were a set of binoculars and a helmet. When he was a child, Jeff Crivello, Jimmy’s nephew and Joclyn’s father, found them fascinating to look at. Their worn-down surfaces revealed only hints of the atrocities they had seen and of the man who outlived them. In the quiet streets of Milford, MA, they seemed to be from another lifetime.
In 1947, Uncle Jimmy settled at 26 Depot Street, a cream-colored colonial house in Milford that came to host many family gatherings and dinners. On Thanksgiving, the house would be filled with the colorful array of family in formal wear — hats, suits, and ties for the men, dresses and heels for the women.
On Christmas, Uncle Jimmy, and the rest of the neighborhood, converged at Jeff’s house, decked out in Christmas wreaths, a Christmas tree, frosted windows, and an Aunt Gracie orchestrating final decorations while other family members gathered eggs laid by the ducks and chickens in the backyard.
When Jeff was around seven or eight years old, he received a firetruck from Uncle Jimmy. “A big truck, big deal! But things were simpler back then, so it was a memorable gift.”
Uncle Jimmy always had something for the children at Christmas. On Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1944, however, he was far away from the warmth of family and holiday festivities.
One hundred days after D-Day, on September 14, Corporal Crivello and Company B cross into Germany, joining the other companies in the 87th Battalion.
Their first aim is the takeover of Aachen, a large industrial center that Hitler has ordered his troops to hold at all costs.
Company B is sent to northeast Aachen to reinforce a regiment of soldiers targeting a heavily fortified piece of high ground called Crucifix Hill. On October 8 (D plus 124 days), amid heavy gunfire, Corporal Crivello sustains heavy injuries to his arm and is called off the battlefield.
The Battle of Aachen will last thirteen more days and result in a victory for Allied forces.
“He was not one to discuss the horror of war, or to boast about what he did,” Jeff says.
“Gentle,” Joclyn adds. “Kind, religious, quiet, humble—always wanting to help others.”
“Recalling the highlights of that service means more than flashbacks to tense moments of excitement and danger in battle, the grime of muddy trenches, the perils of sub-infested oceans, the combats in the wild blue yonder.” (4th principle, TAL Preamble)
After his injury at Aachen, Uncle Jimmy spends two years recovering in military hospitals throughout Belgium, France, England, and Virginia.
During his stay in England, his older brother Bartolo and his future wife Sarah Todd make a surprise visit to the hospital, a trek that takes them well over three hours from their respective war posts. They arrive at Jimmy’s bedside just as dinnertime is starting. It is the first time Sarah and James meet, but priorities have to be considered: food. Uncle Jimmy is known never to be late for a meal, and this time is to be no exception.
Uncle Jimmy loved how food brought people together. Every Saturday evening after coming back from his service, he and all the other men in the family partook in a “ritual” at Crivello’s Crossing, the family restaurant. Under stained-glass lampshades, the older members played cards and watched television while the younger folks, which included Jeff, then a teenager, and Uncle Jimmy, made special steak sandwiches. Jeff calls it a “sort of rite of passage” for the Crivello men.
Great-Uncle Jimmy coordinated meals well into the last years of his life. Every Sunday, the family gathered at 26 Depot Street for “1 PM dinners” with up to 15 people in attendance. Preparations for the sprawling fare started the day before. Leftovers carried over as Tuesday lunches.
Jokes abounded at the table, as did a wide range of topics covering daily life, politics, and gossip. “My family is very open,” Joclyn says, “and the only time they were quiet was when everyone was chewing.”
Great-Uncle Jimmy did the honors of carving the chicken and slicing the watermelon. Whenever Joclyn eats watermelons, she is taken back to the times he would warn of the dangers of swallowing the seeds: You’ll have a watermelon growing in your stomach. He never failed to deliver this running joke to the children.
“It is just as important to maintain the due processes of law in our domestic affairs.” (2nd principle, TAL Preamble)
In 1949, Uncle Jimmy starts working at the Worcester District Courthouse as part of the maintenance staff. For 36 years, five days a week, he will make the 60-mile commute to and from the courthouse. *
In the 1970s, Jeff continued his studies at Worcester State University. On Friday afternoons, whenever he wanted to visit home, he would walk from the university campus to the Worcester District Courthouse to meet Uncle Jimmy, who would give him a ride.
Through his uncle, Jeff met the lawyers and judges at the courthouse, and from these brief interactions, he saw how Uncle Jimmy was held in high regard. He was a “well-respected man throughout each community” he was part of, which “includ[ed] the courthouse.”
“Always interested in building a better nation, the founders of The American Legion believed that such building must start first with the individual in his own community.” (5th principle, TAL Preamble)
Great-Uncle Jimmy never stopped serving his country back home. He worked tirelessly to improve the veteran community on the board of the Milford Housing Authority and through two of the most well-known veterans’ group in the U.S., Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and The American Legion (TAL).
In 1948, Uncle Jimmy is appointed as the first secretary on the newly-formed housing authority in Milford. Little did he know then that he will become the oldest and longest-serving chartered member of any housing authority in the state, serving for 52 years, throughout which he will serve as chairman numerous times.
Uncle Jimmy will also become the commander of both the Lt. Robert C. Frascotti Post at Milford and the county VFW organization, which comprises 42 posts in Worcester County. He will also participate in The American Legion activities as a general charter member and as president of the Milford American Legion Baseball Team.
Uncle Jimmy’s passion for baseball and involvement in the Milford Legion Team was big for a child growing up in a town such as Milford, where the sport has a major presence.
Before the Milford Legion team played in the evenings, Uncle Jimmy would take Jeff to Fino Field to meet the players and coaches. As they settled down at the bleachers for the game, Jeff would feel the excitement rising in him, as if he were at Fenway Park watching a Red Sox match. Together, nephew and uncle would watch as the early summer evening slipped into dusk and the lights brightened on the drama unfolding around the diamond.
“On this ideal of safeguarding and transmitting to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy, all of the youth-training programs of The American Legion are built. (9th principle, TAL Preamble)
If you make your way to the back of 26 Depot Street, there is a little greenhouse. If you enter it, you will find yourself within the masterpiece of an avid gardener. Tomatoes, zucchinis, carrots, celery, fennel, Italian beans, radishes grow in every available space.
Uncle Jimmy’s green thumb extended beyond the plants he took care of — he also cultivated future generations with the values he fought for his entire life.
The lasting impression Uncle Jimmy left upon Jeff was his incredible integrity, the way “he carried himself with friends and family and community.” He provided meals to customers that needed food and extended or covered tabs when needed. He “helped others beyond just family” with an “extension of goodwill for the community.”
Joclyn hears that she is a lot like him: “Quiet until someone starts talking to me. He loved kids, he loved to be around people. He loved his family and community.”
When asked whether his life affected her decision to join the Peace Corps, she said it most definitely did. Values like “volunteerism” and “continued service” are things that “I hope to carry on,” she says.
Lucia Ciudnaia, the Assistant Manager of the English Education program in Peace Corps Moldova, recounts a day in Joclyn’s service:
“While serving in Peace Corps Moldova, Joclyn has had many successful moments. One greatest success was in one of her Primary School English School Meetings.”
On that day, students learned about Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana.
“This specific day was a success because it was more than just learning English or learning about America. Students applied the injustices in America to instances that have occurred in Moldova. They discussed how the Roma population in Moldova is treated and the wrongs of treating other humans differently … Students showed and developed empathy for each other and those that are beyond the borders of the small country of Moldova.”
Jorge Moreno, another English Education volunteer in Joclyn’s cohort, tells me how impressed he was with Joclyn: “Her ability to get along with most of the Peace Corps Volunteers and Host Country Nationals was incredible.”
Joclyn is proud to know that someone in her family took part in something so important in America’s history. “It’s regretful that I didn’t get to know him more,” she says.
Great-Uncle Jimmy’s funeral was held on a hot July day with clear skies. His family gathered at Sacred Heart Church for the service and burial. Military persons were in attendance to honor their comrade-in-arms and placed the folded American flag upon his casket. As they laid him in the church cemetery, the guards saluted and the family gave their farewells to a life that shone brightly in a family, a community, and history.
* As many of those who worked with Mr. Crivello have also passed on from this world, there has been a lack of anecdotal information. As such, Mr. Crivello’s online obituary has been referenced to supplement where the narrative leaves off.