I am sitting down with Ralph Colucci in his beautiful, brick home, listening to him tell me some really graphic war stories. Presently, he’s sporting a dark blue sweater, 70’s toby glasses, and black wrangler jeans. His predominantly white but yet grizzled hair are scantily hanging on the sides of his head. His wrinkled skin and the brown age spots on his face makes him look tired and oldish.
Many decades has passed since he last stormed the forestries of Korea during the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953, where over five million soldiers and civilians lost their lives. But, and like any war veteran will tell you, war is not just any kind of human experience—-it is something that stays with you for the rest of your life. For, Ralph Colucci, however, and although war was a big part of his life, it was not the only part. To only tell that story would be a grave mistake and a disuse of our precious time together.
“I was the company commander radio operator on one of the missions I was on in Korea,” Ralph tells me in his groggy and monotone voice. “I was in charge of some couple other guys….and it was September. They told me to take three guys to the Main Liner Resistance (MLR). All the sudden, the mortars started coming in on this trail,” He said, pointing indiscriminately in the air. “I’m hollering at the guys, ‘don’t run! lay down! don’t run! don’t run!’ but they didn’t listen, they ran right by me.”
“I heard moaning but I couldn’t see anybody.” Ralph continued, with his 70’s toby glasses hanging from the brim of his nose while his glossy blue eyes scanned my person as if I was the enemy. “I said keep moaning and I’ll find you. He kept moaning. When I finally saw him, one of his legs were blown off. The poor guy said to me, ‘get outta here before they get you.’ I was a brave guy, you know, so I said to him, ‘nah, they an’t gona get me.’ He then asked me to get him a drink of water. I pulled out my canteen and handed it to him. When he drank the water and saw his leg, he passed out. They eventually were able to take him away, but later I heard that he died.”
Ralph pauses for second and then shakes his head. I can see that that story really brought him back to a time he thought he had forgotten. “Anybody who slept with me after that was taking a chance at me….reacting like I was still in combat,” he tells me. “It took twenty years before I could sleep better again.”
Ralph Colucci was born in Buffalo. He went to Kensington high school, where he played basketball and baseball. “That was where you grew up with every nationality. That’s one of the best things that happened to me.” Ralph tells me as he recounted about his old neighborhood; the Kenfield projects. “We were poor but we didn’t even know it. Everybody knew everybody…it didn’t matter who you were, what your religion was, or anything.”
Ralph, and although he didn’t have to tell me this, I got the feeling that growing up in the Kenfield projects really molded him to be selfless, more conscientious, and firm on his righteous beliefs. In like manner, and although there weren’t a lot of opportunities in the projects, Ralph had a couple good opportunities because he was such a great ball player. In fact, he was so good, that he got a scholarship to play for North Eastern University. But he turned it down because he decided to help his father during The Great Depression.
Before the war, Ralph spent his younger days working many odd jobs. One odd job, for example, was when he worked at a spaghetti factory, sorting long, gigantic strands of spaghetti for eight hours. Not the most exciting job in the world, but he didn’t mind it. Another one was when he delivered food to many Buffalo public schools during the Great Depression.
After the war, he got married, bought a mansion, somewhere, that still “had servants’ quarters in it,” and adopted two children; an African American kid and an Asian girl. In addition to that, he also had five children of his own. “One of my boys, James, died of a heart attack, though,” Ralph told me. “He died sixteen years ago and we have a golf tournament in his name, every year. We raised twenty thousand dollars to give to charity. We raised twenty thousand dollars for scholarships to his high school, and his kids, who don’t even remember him, we raised another twenty thousand for their future education.”
Presently, Ralph and I, having been sitting for a while now, got up to walk around his home. However, before we started sojourning his home, one of his cats, BlackJack, showed up. He was prowling around like a king. He jumped on top of one of the couches, hid behind one of them, too, before eventually, making his way to greeting Ralph. BlackJack wanted nothing to do with me. “He’ll get used to ya, don’t worry,” Ralph said.
As we resumed our journey through Ralph’s home, he spoke indistinctively as I observed some of his trophies. One of his trophies read, “Du Drop Inn Softball Championships.” Another one read, “Softball Hall of Fame.” Gradually, we then made our way into his computer room, where there were photos of him and his softball team.
As I observed his trophies and old photographs with awe, I felt honored to be perambulating the corridors of someone who abandoned his opportunities to not only do what he considered was right, by helping out his father, but to go and fight in the war, because he wanted to stand up for something.
While glancing at Ralph and at his old photographs, but yet, not quite understanding his indistinctive sayings because I was deep in thought, I wondered about the loose principles of our generation and how much we take people like Ralph for granted. And such a thought infuriated me, because, here was a guy who fought for some of the liberties that we’re enjoying, but rather than taking the time to think about that, we burden ourselves with negligible things, like, iPhones, taking selfies, and how much likes we have on social media.
“This is my wardrobe, where I have twenty or thirty suits,” Ralph said as his voice became distinctive and I was no longer enchanted by his photos and trophies. Ralph offered me some of his suits, but I declined. “Don’t feel embarrassed. Go ahead, try something on,” he insisted. Again, I declined. “You can have one if you like,” he insisted, yet again. Seeing that I wasn’t going to quit him, I eventually accepted his offer and settled for one of the many ties that he had. I figured if it was something small, it would make him happy. Plus, it seemed inappropriate to take something from someone who I hardly knew. Nonetheless, his kind gesture was duly noted.
Until now, I’ve never actually spent time with a war veteran. Because of this, I wasn’t quite sure how to behave or what to say and what not to say. My frame of reference of someone who had spent time in a war zone, was my great-grandfather, during world war one, and whose colorful war stories supplied my imaginations with great satisfactions whenever our dad rehearsed his battles. But beyond that, and in addition to a few movies that I had glimpsed, my perception of what a war veteran should be was abstract and limited.
Be that as it may, Ralph was kind, honest, patient, and charitable. He spoke kindly about our millennial generation, had the utmost respect for our current president, Barrack Obama, and was ready to give back in any way he could. Hence, the reason he kept insisting that I should oblige myself with one of his suits.
For all it’s worth, Ralph, and although he may view his behaviors as just another expression of his nobility, was having a profound impact on me. Nostalgia aside, and to analyze this further, perhaps it’s because his nobility and amiable ways reminded me so much of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator whose campaign centers around the notion of giving back and doing right by the people. Whatever the reason, I was liking every minute with Ralph and I dreaded the thought of our time together—coming to a close.
All things considered, and by in large, the ontology of Ralph was captured in the three events of his life that stood out to me. One; when he decided to help his father during the Great Depression rather than going to college to play ball. Second; and still, during the Great Depression, when he delivered food to the Buffalo public schools. Third: when he offered to give me his precious suits after a few hours of meeting me.
When we made our way back to his living room, where our interview first began, we talked about politics, current affairs, and a little bit more about the Korean war. Remember that “poor guy” who died soon after he passed out when Ralph gave him his canteen to drink? Well, Ralph went back to that story and decided to tell me the rest of it. “I was really ticked off that he died. I went to the company commander and said to him, that, ‘If your men would have stopped maybe we could’ve saved his life.’ The company commander said, ‘well, son, war is hell.’ Me, with my temper, I said, ‘you’re full of shit, sir. and if you ever come out of this bunker I’m gona kill you.'”
Ralph was upset that day because the company commander sent a letter to the “poor guy’s” family without mentioning “how he died a hero.” That company commander “never did come out. but I got demoted.” But Ralph tells me that he didn’t care about that because he felt like he was doing the right thing—by speaking up for that guy to be better represented for all the hard work and service he gave to his team.
After that, Ralph kept holding back about his war stories. I can tell that he felt that the amount he had shared with me, already—was sufficient. Maybe he felt that I couldn’t handle anymore of it, or he figured it was too private, or maybe after so many years, he still wasn’t ready. But, you know what, I was fine with that. Insofar, Ralph has proven to me that he is much more than his war stories.
On the whole, Ralph and I may be different by age, race, his war stories and whatever else, but our appreciation and acceptance of diversity, kindness and integrity, was the same. And for that, no amount of words can describe how privileged I feel to have shared the same space as Ralph. Our precious time together will forever harbor the deepest corners of my mind….for years to come.
When I asked Ralph if he had any regrets, he said he did not. In fact, if he could it do all over again, he would. In the spirit of giving back, Ralph, in more ways than one, has certainly given me a lot to think about. My hope is, however, that, inasmuch as he was able to teach me about integrity and being unafraid to speak truth-to-power, I was able to give him something, like, how there were still some in our generation who cared about spending time with those who fought for our freedoms.
Presently, and before I finally put the last ink to paper about Ralph’s amazing life, BlackJack showed up. He rubbed his body on my legs for a while and even allowed me to pet his soft, black fur. Ralph smiled at this. “See, I told you he’d get used to ya.” he said.
Click Link to read about Last Week’s inspiring person; Rayyan, a young Instagram star and fashion model
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