Franca Silvana DiSacco, was born in Italy in 1930 in a small village outside Pisa. The second oldest of seven children, she went to school through the sixth grade before the hostilities of WW2 closed it. Her father, a stone mason, was sent north into Austria as part of Mussolini’s contribution to Hitler’s war effort. There he was injured. Walking home barefoot, he developed gangrene and arrived only to die in his wife’s arms. Fatherless, Franca and her six siblings scrounged food to survive. In 1943 she was shot through her left leg while entering an orchard guarded by the Germans; and was rescued by her two brothers and an approaching American Infantry patrol. She recovered, and in 1946 was raped and impregnated by an American pilot at Darby Field. In 1949 she married a US Army Soldier, Tech Sergeant Glenn Meverden, who brought her to America. Together, they had seven children, three girls and four boys. My mother knew war, and learned how to survive.
In the summer of 2002, I visited mama Franca in her small apartment in Green Bay, WI. I had orders to deploy as the chaplain of a Special Forces (Green Beret) Battalion to Afghanistan. As her oldest son, I felt it important to tell her face-to-face, and let her know that I loved her. I called to tell her the date and time of my visit. She was waiting for me with a light lunch prepared. We sat down at her small kitchen table. I started to speak, but she raised her hand for me to stop. She looked me in the eyes and said: “You are going to Afghanistan; it is a dangerous place. Remember tree (sic) things.” She held up her thumb and two fingers in southern European style. “Number one: always be aware of your surroundings. Wherever you go, look around at the people, notice what they have in their hands, look to see if they have something under their clothes, like a gun or grenade.” With her thumb up, she extended her pointer finger, “Number two: I know you American soldiers, you will get tired of eating Army food and want to go into town to eat. When you enter a restaurant, sit with your back to the wall facing the front door and look for a back door. Watch everyone who comes in, notice what they are carrying and wearing. Look for anything dangerous.” Then her third and middle finger extended, “Tree (she maintained her distinct Italian accent), when you pull the pin on a grenade, you get rid of it real fast!” She wasn’t smiling or joking. She was speaking of her wartime experience. In nearly 40 years of military experience, I’ve never heard a better briefing on personal security and Rules of Engagement.
I share this story out of concern for you and your families, during these dangerous “last days.” Whether your chaplaincy is federal or civilian, you’re on a police or fire ride-a-long, in the ER, a prison facility, or a combat zone; whether on land, sea or air, in the US or abroad, please remember “Mama Franca’s” advice to her son. Maintain situational awareness, be aware of escape routes, and, if attacked, throw whatever you have at your attacker. Jesus warned us, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18) Take care and teach your children well.