story & photos
by Maren Schober
I arrive at St. Thomas’ Catholic Church, Voluntown, early this morning where seven ladies from the Legion of Mary are gathering to carpool over to the home of Nicholas Caruso.
Today is September 24th and Nicholas Caruso awakens to his 99th birthday.
“We have all been visiting Nicholas regularly over the past few years. He is a World War II veteran and he sure has a lot of stories to tell,” offers Bea Delamater. “I bring Communion to him and he loves to talk.”
“That’s right,” agrees Ludy Watson and Laurie Vanover. “He is fun to be with and he is so nice.”
We make the short drive to Griswold and set up a table under the trees by the driveway. As Nicholas comes out of his home he looks surprised to see all of us. After a hearty round of “Happy Birthday,” the ladies present Nicholas with the perfect birthday cake and pottery mug: the inscription reads Department of the Navy United States of America. Nicholas is so pleased.
“All you ladies are beautiful,” he tells them. “Thank you, thank you so much. I never thought anyone would come on my birthday.”
Hilda Jolin laughs and whispers to me, “Navy men think all women are beautiful!”
After the others leave, I sit with Nicholas in his home as he tells me about his war years.
“I grew up in Lawrence, MA,” Nick tells me. “ It was a mill town. By the time I was a sophomore in high school I wanted to leave that town. I didn’t want to have to work in the mill. So I enlisted in the Navy with my friend Johnny on April Fool’s Day in 1929.”
“I served in the Navy for 25 years right through WWII. I traveled all over. I was on the USS Wyoming and the Spearfish. We went to the Canary Islands and as a joke we each brought our Captain a yellow canary in a cage. He got angry and told us to take the bird back.”
“ They sent me to torpedo school in Louisville and they made me train as a diver. I had to dive down to 900 feet under the water. Once I saw a bull shark down there. That shark just looked me over wondering if I would be good to eat or not. But I was wearing a helmet and he let me alone.”
“I got my degree at Bentley School of Accounting and I worked in Hotel Management,” Nicholas continues. “I met my wife Mary Ann Grochman at a dance in New London and were were married in 1938 by the Justice of the Peace in Kittery, ME. I have lived in many places but liked it best in Hawaii. I met some movie stars, like , and we loved the flowers there.”
“I had a good life,” Nick says in summary. “I can’t write any more, but I still have my marbles.”