War memoirs of John J. Carrigg, © Copyright 2005 Catholichistory.net
Part I (Part II) (Part III) (Part IV)
I grew up in a very Irish Catholic Democrat home. My mother and dad thought FDR was the greatest. Republicans were beyond the pale. We had a cousin who was one and it had to be accepted but it was difficult. It would have been better if he were a Democrat. My mother used to refer to Republicans as Black Republicans. (It had nothing to do with color, but everything to do with commitment.) I can still hear my mother say “he was a Black Republican.” And to think I became one and so did both of my brothers. I remember the gloom in our house when Herbert Hoover defeated Al Smith for the presidency (1928). I knew something awful had happened. In 1932 FDR won the Democratic nomination and went on to defeat Hoover but my mother never forgave Al Smith for breaking with Roosevelt. He was a traitor. The Democratic commitment was very strong. I remember a little political dispute I had with my mother—this was during the war. Mother suddenly rounded on me with “John, you're not a Republican?” I said nothing; it was a cruel truth.
Very influential in all this was the strong conservatism of the History faculty at Georgetown University that I attended, '47 to '50. Several of the profs were refugees from Communist tryanny and had no illusions about Marxism. One of my favorites was Cyril Toumanoff, a brilliant scholar and linguist. In American history there was Charles Callan Tansill whose two favorite targets were Woodrow Wilson and FDR. Quite different from graduate faculties all over the country who were mostly on the left side of the equation. I voted for FDR in 1944 and never voted Democratic again. From then on I was a straight Republican vote.
My schooling was mostly Public School 72. My mother had three sisters who were public school teachers and she feared if she sent me to Catholic school it might jeopardize their jobs. So I went to Holy Family School for second grade only and my First Communion My two younger brothers went all the way to Holy Family School. It didn’t make much sense but I never questioned it. A crisis occurred when it came to graduation. I was the class president and normally at Public School 72 the class president was Protestant and had the privilege of inviting a Protestant minister to give the blessing. But now they had a Catholic and he probably would insist on a Catholic priest. So Nellie Kirk, the school principal, came to see me about the problem. I consulted with my parents and aunts and the decision was: Let them pick the minister. To quote Joe McCarthy, “it was a shrinking show of weakness “ on our part. It could be treated as a classical example of ecumenism.
Quite a few Catholics went to School 72. The Gym teacher Bill Hubbard was a strong Catholic and very influential with the students. I was in touch with him over the years even after I retired from FUS [Franciscan University].
High School and College were Jesuit and classical. Six years of Latin and five of Greek plus theology, philosophy, literature, math, and history. A great education. The Jesuits made quite an impact on me and I was moving toward the order and was periodically interviewed by Father Francis X O'Malley, the president of Canisius College. He set an interview for Holy Saturday in 1940. If that went well I would enter the order in July of l940. So on that fateful Holy Saturday I went up to Canisius College. Father O'Malley was not in his office, neither was his secretary Harvey Stapleton. I thought this was most unusual. While musing on this, the Dean, Father John Patrick O'Sullivan, came out of the Jesuits' quarters and I said, “Father O'Sullivan, I have an appointment with Father O'Malley this morning,” and the Dean said, “Father O'Malley died this morning.” Wow. That pretty well wiped out my vocation. I thought it was the hand of God in my life.
I spent the summer of 1943 in training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. I had applied for the Army Air Force and in the Fall of 1943 was sent to Colby College in Waterville, Maine. It was a very pleasant interlude. It was supposed to be pre-flight training and we all had ten hours of dual instruction flying. My instructor had a name that didn’t augur well for safe flying: His name was Graves and he didn’t find me a very apt pupil. He once shouted at me: “What are you trying to do kill both of us!”
Winter in Maine was very pleasant. The food was superior to army rations.We took a few courses: Math and History. The history instructor was weak on Irish History and had never heard of Daniel O'Connell. Methodists are weak in that area Our Air Force group made up a large part of Colby's enrollment. There were still a few traditional students—nearly all of them feminine, and we didn’t mind that at all. It was quite evident that the whole thing was a sop to colleges given that most of their students were away and in the military.
The whole interlude ended in the Spring of 1944. We took a long train ride from Maine to Texas. I stood between two cars listening to the old Steamer chugging along through the prairie of Oklahoma that was so fresh and green as far as you could see. At the end of that journey we learned that we were not needed in the Army Air Force. But there was an acute need for infantrymen and most of us were sent to a brand new division, the 8th Armored Division, which was in training at Cape Polk, Louisiana. I know from a student of this period that we had suffered heavy losses in Normany and the repo depots were running low on replacements.
I was assigned to the mortar squad of the first platoon of Company B of the 7th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 8th Armored Division. Our commanding General was John Devine. There were eight guys in our mortar squad: Sgt. Walter Podliski from Oceola Mills, Pa.; Levi Thompson from Princeton, West Va.; Earl Brown from Missouri; Donald Peacock from Janesville, Wisconsin; Albert DiNunzio, Dunmore, Pennsylvania; John J,. Carrigg, Buffalo, New York; Curley Wolman, New Jersey; and Bill Shoup, the half track driver, from Colorado.