By Russell J. Moore/Warwick Beacon
War Veteran Frank Amalfetano has been trying to forget the carnage of D-Day for the last 65 years.
“I’ve really tried to erase it from my mind, but the flashbacks just don’t go away,” said Amalfetano, now 84 years old.
“Even after [D-Day], I stayed on the beach of Normandy for three months—June, July and August and there wasn’t a day that went by … that we didn’t find body parts in the water.”
Despite their reluctance to recall what were the most traumatic days of their lives, historian and filmmaker Tim Gray is doing his part to make sure the stories of war veterans like Amalfetano, which feature their courage, selflessness and sense of duty, are preserved for all posterity.
Gray, who works full-time for General Treasurer Frank Caprio, has produced Navy Heroes of Normandy a documentary that features Amalfetano and several other Rhode Island Navy veterans.
Navy Heroes of Normandy is as educational as it is emotional. The documentary culminates in the dedication of a Navy Memorial in Normandy on September of last year.
Gray also produced another film, D-Day: The Price of Freedom, which featured Gray bringing five D-Day veterans back to Normandy. That film has won two Emmy Awards for writing and photography.
“Everybody who lived in that time period has an incredible story to share whether they were a civilian or in the service,” said Gray during a recent interview.
“We’re losing so many of these veterans every day. We’re in a serious time crunch here and we need to get these stories out while we can,” said Gray, who has been a World War II historian since the age of 6.
Both movies contain the history of and strategy behind D-Day, footage of then General Dwight Eisenhower, and personal stories of the veterans and their experiences.
Gray said that one of his fondest memories of filmmaking was traveling in Normandy with the veterans in 2006.
“They’re heroes in Normandy. I joke around and say it was like traveling with rock stars,” said Gray.
In addition to Amalfetano, his latest films detail the heroics of Rhode Islanders Ernie Corvese, one of the first men ashore on D-Day, Richard Fazzio, who like Amalfetano was a Navy coxswain, and several others.
The film is deeply emotional.
“There was so much random killing in World War II and these men live with the guilt that many of their friends were killed and it could have easily been them,” said Gray.
Nobody knows that better than Amalfetano.
“We were 18-year-old kids and we didn’t know what was going on. Thank God we’re still here today to talk about it,” said Amalfetano in the movie.
He made similar statements during an interview on Friday.
“Those were real bullets they shoot at you,” he said.
When Amalfetano enlisted in the United States Navy in 1943 at the age of 17, he and the millions of others who answered the bell for their country had no clue that they’d soon be part of the largest sea borne invasion in the history of the world.
Amalfetano, who most know as the owner of Jennies Ice Cream—a Warwick landmark that was located on West Shore Road—was one of the 85 percent of the troops in that battle that had never seen combat before D-Day.
Trained as a coxswain in the U.S. Navy, he had never even steered a boat before joining the armed forces. It was Amalfetano’s job to perform the all-important task of getting the soldiers from the water to dry ground.
Sixty-five years later, Amalfetano, a personable, affable, jolly gentleman who struggles with his eyesight and hearing, would still rather not think, let alone talk, about World War II.
Despite the traumatic memories, Amalfetano was a great sport during the interview on Friday, trying to recall the least pleasant days of his life. But he was clearly more interested in talking about other, more pleasant subjects.
Amalfetano perked up when given the chance to talk about his beloved Red Sox, sports cars, or golf (which he still plays despite his limited vision).
Amalfetano said he learned something about himself in the war.
“I was pretty darn good at steering a boat,” he said.
Navy Heroes of Normandy will be aired on June 6, at the Sainte/Mare/Eglise, at the Utah Beach Museum. President Barack Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will all attend a ceremony following the film’s showing to commemorate D-Day.
The film will also be screened at the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas on June 4-5. On July 18, a free showing will be held at the Showcase Cinema on Quaker Lane in Warwick at 10:30 a.m. Veterans will be given a preference. Amalfetano gives the film rave reviews.
“I think [Gray] has done a wonderful job,” said Amalfetano.
Victoria, his wife whom he will celebrate his 55th wedding anniversary with in November, also liked the film.
“While he was watching it, he said ‘Victoria, I’m in France,’” said Victoria.
For a moment, Victoria thought he was having flashbacks, but soon realized he was referring to his interview with Gray, which was spliced in during footage of France.
“It’s a good movie,” said Victoria.