John Caruso III never knew his paternal grandfather in person, a Marine who helped liberate the Philippines from the Japanese during World War II.
But Caruso, a junior at Fordham College Rose Hill majoring in chemistry with a concentration in American Catholic studies, has spent the last decade getting to know John Caruso in other ways.
This semester, he published “The Greatest Generation: A Case Study,” in the spring issue of the Fordham Undergraduate Research Journal (FURJ). The essay features a dozen photos and reproductions of letters that investigate the pride that “the greatest generation” inspires in Americans.
It’s a subject that Caruso has been interested in since middle school, when he first began cataloguing any artifacts he came upon that were related to his grandfather, who died when he was an infant.
“My parents would tell me stories,” he said, “because they were very proud of their parents and the times they went through, from the Great Depression and my grandfather’s upbringing in a very poor community in Newark, to World War II, and afterwards, [when they came]back to create this great country.”
When he first started asking his parents about pictures, they assured him there was nothing noteworthy that he hadn’t already seen. He was skeptical, though, and eventually found a box in the back of their basement with roughly 75 photos and letters that his grandfather had brought home.
The pictures provided vivid details about grandfather Caruso, who enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1942 when he was 18 and eventually became a member of the Third Marine Air Wing infantry unit. During the war, Caruso installed communication wire in trees, drove transport trucks to the front lines, and participated in the capture of the Japanese airfield on the Zamboanga peninsula in the Philippines.
The picture of him standing with a captured Japanese transport plane was especially illuminating for Caruso III.
“When I was first learning about his involvement, I didn’t know exactly what he did. So when I saw this photo and saw this airplane, I thought ‘Wow, he was there when they captured some of these key locations that were significant to winning the war,” he said.
Of the 75 photos and letters in the collection, Caruso III chose 12 for his photo essay. The essay starts with a picture of his grandfather at age 14 and ends with him safe at home with his wife Anne in 1947. Pictures, letters, and flyers from the Philippines are interspersed in between.
Although Caruso III’s interest in World War II is not directly related to his academic pursuits, the reception to the photo essay has been positive enough that he’s considering revisiting the story of his other (maternal) grandfather. That grandfather also served in the armed forces during World War II as a stenographer in Europe; because he had access to a typewriter, he wrote hundreds of letters back home to his sister.
“When I first started writing this essay, I had no clue where it would go. I just wanted to tell the story,” he said.
“Now that I see people like the story, I’m very happy.”