Experiences of four Woonsocket men included in “Soldiers’ Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs.”
By John Hill
Journal Staff Writer
WOONSOCKET, R.I. — Back in February 2016, on the same Sunday most of Rhode Island was watching the Panthers and the Broncos in the Super Bowl, Myra Miller was in a restaurant in Missouri, talking excitedly to her siblings about all the research she’d done in their father’s service in World War II.
Then one of her brothers said, “We should do a book.”
Less than one year later that book, “Soldiers’ Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs,” was published. Besides each of the siblings offering their own recollection of their father, Myron H. Miller, a staff sergeant in the 83rd Infantry Division, the 316-page hardcover book includes similar reminiscences of 140+ men and women who served in World War II.
She and her siblings will be at Woonsocket’s Museum of Work and Culture on Sunday, April 2, to talk about the book and sign copies. They will be joined by one of the men in the book, Woonsocket resident and World War II Navy veteran Richard Fazzio.
Not only a family idea, the book was a family effort. Her sister Lynette Miller Ballard was the final copy editor, brothers Del and Ken were writers, with Ken drawing illustrations. Her brother Marshall Miller also wrote and handled the business end and Myra did the layouts and design.
“Everybody wonders how we didn’t kill each other,” Miller said.
For her, the book grew out of her ignorance of what her father, a Missouri farmer, had done in World War II.
“I had this feeling of shame that I didn’t know,” she said. “I saw a documentary on World War II and I thought, ‘He was in THAT?’ I’m a very smart person but I was feeling dumb at the time.”
They needed more than just their father, she said. They began looking for others, starting with her father’s friends. They used social media and scoured news clippings of the era for any mention of the 83rd Division. Then, Miller said, she went to the division’s 2016 reunion in Washington, D.C., and the dam broke.
The big find was Robert McNabb, whose father had served in her father’s company and who was in touch with the relatives of others. A newspaper clipping mentioned Sgt. Normand Malo of Woonsocket. McNabb knew Malo’s daughter and when Miller called her, she said, “you need to talk to Gene Peloquin.”
Peloquin had a brother, Raymond, who also served in the 83rd. He has been active in veterans affairs in the Blackstone Valley over the years. He helped with four Woonsocket veterans who are in the book.
They are Malo, Peloquin, Eugene Godin and Richard Fazzio. Of the four, only Fazzio is still alive. Godin, Malo and Peloquin all served in the 83rd. Godin was with a field artillery unit, Peloquin with an anti-tank gun crew and Malo was a squad leader. Fazzio was a coxswain in the Navy, wounded while piloting one of the landing craft that ferried Marines to Omaha Beach in Normandy.
There are no Eisenhowers or Montgomerys or Pattons in the Millers’ book. Miller said that was intentional; it was meant to be the stories of in-the-ranks men and women who sometimes get lost in the big sweeping story of the Second World War.
“It doesn’t matter if you were a clerk in the back of the lines,” she said. “You had a part in that success.”
If you go
What: “Soldiers’ Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs”
Where: Museum of Work and Culture, 42 South Main St., Woonsocket
When: 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 2
Information: rihs.org, (401) 769-9675
Excerpts from “Soldiers’ Stories”
Fazzio remembers his brother’s sacrifice [Frank Fazzio was killed during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific in 1944] and those of other Lincoln Street residents lost to the war when he visits a plaque in their memory still located not far from his former neighborhood today. It is hard for him to relive what he experienced on D-Day but he does remember it now as the sole survivor of his crew.
Eugene J. Godin
In April 1941, Gene married his sweetheart, Rita Peloquin; they were a great, loving couple. Shortly afterward, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and America went to war. Rita and Gene’s first child, Robert, was born on October 10, 1942, and less than six weeks later, Gene was off to serve his country, assigned to the 83rd Infantry Division.
Normand R. Malo
While Normand was in Normandy on June 26, 1944, he watched his friends being injured and dying during attacks by the Germans. Then in July of 1944, he was hurt close to his eye while in the hedgerows in Normandy, France. The second time he was wounded in the right leg at the Roer River in Germany. He said, ‘Til this day it still hurts.’ (From an interview conducted by fifth graders in Norwich, Connecticut, in 2002 as part of a Veterans History Project.)
Raymond H. Peloquin
“In 1944, I was a young American who had never left his hometown. The war in Europe, what a great adventure. In the beginning, I did not think of death, but later, I saw so much drama. So many of my friends killed. Too many scenes that cannot be erased in a lifetime.”