Path Home Shows 2017 Show Archive May 2017 Show 1721 Remembrance: A Marine’s Love Story

Remembrance: A Marine’s Love Story

Marine warrior Charles Migliorino’s audio love letters to his wife brought great joy to a fallen Marine’s family.
Remembrance: A Marine’s Love Story

Remembrance: A Marine’s Love Story

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Vietnam War

Show Details

Show 1721: Remembrance: A Marine’s Love Story
Air Date: May 21, 2017

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: When Charles Migliorino died of cancer this month, Oklahoma lost a respected jurist and a distinguished judge. But more than anything, he lived a life of service, volunteering for Vietnam, teaching in the Ardmore Public Schools while also attending law school at night, then a legal career as a prosecutor and a defense attorney before becoming the associate district judge for Johnston County. But Migliorino, never one to brag, would tell you in private that one of his proudest moments was an act of kindness that brought together a family with their long lost brother. Today, we remember his life and his service in a piece we call “A Marine’s Love Story.”

Alice Migliorino: I got this steak for our anniversary tonight.

Rob: It’s dinnertime for Alice and Charles Migliorino.

Charlies Migliorino: With a lot of butter.

Rob: Nothing fancy, even if tonight is their 43rd anniversary. Inseparable through the years, they met in college, Alice a homecoming queen and Charles the big man on campus and on the court.

Charles Migliorino: And I did real well at Murray. I, you know, I was the sixth highest scorer in the nation in junior college.

Alice: And I thought, oh, what a nice lookin’ young man.

Rob: A budding relationship, yet Charles knew there was something else he needed to do.

Charles: I was in the dormitory, and uh, there was LIFE magazine and it was, there was a story about some soldiers. They weren’t Marines. They were soldiers. And the officer, who was a 22-year-old officer, had called artillery in on them because they were basically being surrounded and engulfed by North Vietnamese. The story mentioned, you know, 18-, 19-year-olds. And, here I am 17 years old, almost 18 years old, and I’m just sitting in a dormitory.

Rob: So Charles joins the Marines, off to boot camp at Parris Island, with his love back in Oklahoma.

Alice: After he joined, he wrote me a letter and he asked me if I would marry him; I said sure. And he went and bought me ring, and [laughs] that was that.

Charles: Had it delivered.

[laughing].

Alice: Had it delivered; it came in the mail.

Rob: Little time for romance, when you are heading off to Vietnam. Shipped to the front lines, Charles found himself along the infamous DMZ.

Charles: We were surrounded by North Vietnamese, everywhere!

Rob: And it was here he became friends with the old man of the platoon, Mike Ferrara.

Charles: Mike and I were good friends. Mike was, in January of 1968 he turned 21. And I was just fixing to turn 19; I would be 19 in February. He was an older guy. And he had been over there a little longer than me. But he had a fantastic sense of humor. He’d make fun of everything or, sort of. He was the kind of guy that was always joking around and always the lighter side of stuff. And you could, he was kind of a, a clown. But then you could learn a lot from him. And, uh, I knew enough to know that, and we hung out a lot, we talked a lot.

Rob: About life and survival in a land so far away from home.

Charles: Letters were very important things. Letters are the things that you wanted a lot of. You wanted to hear from somebody. You wanted to hear from somebody, you know, that you loved.

Alice: It’s like going back home too.

Charles: Yeah, it's like going back home; it's like being at home.

Rob: But not all the boys’ letters were welcome ones.

Charles: You’re around a bunch of guys who are writing their girlfriends back home; they’re getting Dear John letters and stuff like that. You’re just trying to keep your girlfriend [laughs]. That’s one thing; that’s just the reality of it.

Rob: So Charles had another idea. Rather than write, he taped his love letters on an old reel-to-reel tape player.

[taped recording--Charles: Damn, I hope nobody else is listening because I’d feel sort of embarrassed if they heard the lousy tape I’m making up. And if you let anybody hear it, I’ll go nuts. And, please don’t tell me if you let anybody hear it – recording ends.]

Charles: There was a lot of I love yous in there.

[taped recording -- Charles: Well, I say, I say it all the time; I love you a whole lot, and I wish I was there – recording ends.]

Charles: And, uh, that kind of stuff; and every time I taped, there were a bunch of guys there.

Rob: So when Mike walked in without knowing Charles was talking to Alice, you could hear the apologies.

[taped recording -- Charles: And here comes Mike Ferrara.

Mike Ferrara: What’s everybody coming here for? Hey, man, what’s going on? What is this, a love letter or what? Is that on now?

Charles: Yeah, it’s on now, why don’t you say a few words.

Mike: Is that your girl?

Charles: Yeah, my girl -- laughs.

Mike: I’m sorry man – recording ends].

Rob: Now, while Mike liked to kid around, their job was often deadly serious.

Charles: And four of us, a fire team --and Mike was in our fire team, four men in the fire team -- would go out at night, way out by ourselves, beyond the wire, and basically it’s a listening post, basically what it is, if anything comes in at night, you get hit first.

Rob: Developing a bond that went beyond their years; yet boys will be boys.

Charles: And it was raining, and all the time it seemed like. We were mostly eating C-rations, but at one point they sent out a field kitchen, and we went out and they put things on these little flimsy paper plates. And Mike was with me, and we were just trying to see where we were going. We had flak jackets on, we had, you had to wear helmets and flak jackets. We were, you know, we had our rifles with us, and we’re walking along and it’s like this, and the ravines, there’s not very many good paths, or anything like that. And it's dark! And we both slip at the same time, and the stuff falls down in this red dirt, and Mike looks at me and says, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive! [laughs] Let’s eat this shit. So, uh, and we got that stuff, and we cleaned it off, and we just sat there in the mud, and we just sat, we didn't even go back to the hole in the ground that we were living in, and we just sat there and ate it. And, you know, he was joking and said, you know, damn if we had some damn candles, I could fall in love with you! You know [laughs], you know, stupid stuff.

Rob: Two friends, a half a world away from home, living in the harshest of conditions that in a blink of an eye, can turn deadly.

Charles: You know, we went through all this training and jungle warfare, you know, all this stuff, and yet we were moving in the same kinds of groups that they moved in the second world war, carrying tons of stuff. You could hear us coming for miles. They set an ambush, these are North Vietnamese, and uh, on March 6 of 1968, my company took 38 killed in one ambush, and Mike was one of them.

Rob: Charles survived that attack, but lost a buddy. After his tour, Charles came home to Alice. They marry. Start a family. Teach school. Charles becomes an attorney and now, a judge.

Alice: We pretty much just get on like nothing had ever happened. You know, we had like a short little honeymoon phase. I took this purse out and --

Rob: And memories of Vietnam began to fade, until Alice found an old purse, and inside, the reel-to-reel tapes Charles had made for her so long ago. And on these tapes, the voice of his friend Mike.

Charles: And that’s the red dirt.

[taped recording – Mike: Of course I was the only one who was squared away. Of course, I rally trying to tell your boyfriend here to put his bolt back right. So I had to just fight ‘em off all by myself – recording ends.]

Charles: You know, when I heard his voice and I heard what he was saying, uh, I knew he had sisters, and, you know, I knew he lived in Massapequa, and I said, you know, they haven’t seen or heard of him, you know, heard from him, since 1968.

Rob: So Charles has one last mission to bring his buddy home.

Charles: They just need to hear this.

[taped recording -- Charles: OK, we’re ready for a couple interviews, well, one interview anyway, is Mike Ferrara. He’s gonna give us our opinion, his opinion, excuse me, on Vietnam, for what it’s worth.

Mike: It ain’t worth nothin’. Let me tell ‘em about the time I won the medal of honor.

Charles: Oh, yeah, tell ‘em about the time you won the medal of honor, Ferrara – recording ends.]

[phone ringing]

Rob: Charles found Mike’s sister and sent her the recordings.

[phone conversation -- Charles: Pat?

Pat Petrone: Yes.

Charles: This is Charles, Pat. Charlie!

Pat: Awesome, yeah!]

Rob: Recordings made with love that gave a sister a final reunion with a beloved brother.

[phone conversation -- Pat: A gift I never expected to get; and yet to hear his voice after all these years and also hear it over there in such a dark place, but how they could still joke, my brother could still be joking and talking with all that was going on. It just really, I almost felt like -- oh, I’m getting’ a little emotional -- that I was there. And just to hear his voice, but also know that he was with friends.

Charles: Yeah, uh, Pat, you know, Mike’s sense of humor and all that, did something for me. And uh, you know, the songs he’d make up about people, and you know, the little, the little songs he’d make up about, and, you know, about Riley. And, uh, those, those are things that made, that were wonderful things for me. And, uh, like I told you, my, my grandkids and my son, my daughter and everybody will know about, you know, they know about Mike. And they’ve heard the tapes, and so, you know, without sounding corny, he’s gonna live with them. And then the other things is, you know, he’s part of my life, and I’m not gonna forget him. You know, I forgot a lot of things, and I tried to forget a lot of things; and uh, but uh, uh, OK?

Pat, crying: Sorry if I’m a little emotional.

Charles: Well, I am.

Pat: I mean, after all these years, it still comes back, but those things touch me, just what you’re telling me, cause I think that’s just so great. And not to sound corny too, but I really loved my brother. It’s just so nice that somebody else cared about him and just wants to keep his memory alive. And I really, I think that’s wonderful -- phone conversation ends].

Charles: Myself now, the adult, I’m looking back at kids; that’s what you, and you’re listening to kids talk, teenagers talk about stuff and trying to be as grown up as the situation warranted, but still kids. And that’s what I hear when I listen to that. And, you know, I can't help but think, you know, it’s a damn shame, you know, that, uh, because they were all good people.