Luca from Calabria
Richard A. Reale
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, 98 pages
Book Review published on: March 10, 2017
Luca from Calabria details the life of Giuseppe “Joe” Luca from his early childhood to present day, but focuses on his combat tour as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam and his nomination for the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH). Luca was born in 1946 in Reggio Calabria Province in Italy, hence the name the book Luca of Calabria. The author provides a brief patchwork account of Luca’s childhood while growing up in Italy prior to his immigration to the United States in 1960. As a teenager living in Meriden, Connecticut, Luca attended Catholic schools and enrolled in hairdressing school. He also befriended and assisted Gino, elderly Italian immigrant that owned a restaurant in the neighborhood. Luca revered Gino, not only since he was a fellow Italian immigrant, but also because he fought in World War I as an Italian Army officer. He also admired Gino for his perseverance through great financial losses during the Great Depression and later business ventures, yet remained optimistic throughout his life.
Luca graduated from hairdressing school in 1963 and was doing quite well for himself as a young stylist just out of high school; however, in late-1965 while still an immigrant, he was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps and his life was ultimately altered. At this point, the progress of the book is somewhat confusing in that it proceeds to trace Luca’s life post-Vietnam. During this time, he continues to work in the hairdressing trade and has several notable clients. He gets married three times and has children, and also ends up in prison from 1988 to 1991 for charges in which he was later exonerated. These chapters also detail his local celebrity since he was a war hero returning to his hometown.
The author then retraces back to Luca’s stint in the Marines, where he details Luca’s rigorous training prior to shipping out to Vietnam, from boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, to jungle training in the Philippines. Luca arrived in Vietnam near Da Nang and saw endless combat, predominantly in search and destroy missions. He received three Purple Hearts, the third during action in which he was ultimately awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery. This was his last engagement in Vietnam.
The author then focuses on the award recommendation for his valor, which was submitted as a CMH and downgraded to the Navy Cross. The author suggests reasons why the recommendation was not supported, including his commander’s statement as a witness (who was also deep in the throes of battle that day) and also Luca’s reaction if he were to receive the CMH. The author also suggests that perhaps Luca’s CMH recommendation was not supported since he was an immigrant at the time and not yet a United States citizen. Although numerous organizations have campaigned on his behalf, their efforts have been to no avail. One compelling argument includes the later regrets of his battalion commander in Vietnam that originally recommended the downgrade to the Navy Cross.
The book concludes in an interesting twist in that the author reveals that he is the son of Gino, the elderly man that Luca helped in the neighborhood when he was a teenager. The author greatly appreciated Luca’s assistance while away at college and wanted to show gratitude by writing his biography.
The book provides a good amount of background on the recommendation for Luca’s bravery on 5 March 1967 and his later successes and struggles in life, including posttraumatic stress disorder. The book is sometimes confusing chronologically due to its organization and includes a few grammatical errors. At only ninety-eight pages, this is a very quick read and provides interesting insight into the life of an immigrant drafted into the Marines that experienced heavy combat during the Vietnam War.
Book Review written by: Steven C. Wiegers, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas