BY STEVE DAMISH
Words to Love By
They met when Paris was liberated during World War II, he a young American G.I., she a young French woman who had lived in fear under three years of Nazi rule. He spoke no French, she no English. They were together just long enough for her to get his mailing address. And with it she stole his heart.
A reflection of Amalio and Paulette Giovanniello, who have been married for nearly 60 years, is seen at bottom left in a collage of photos in their Avon home in April. Paulette was Brocktons first French war bride after World War II.
MARC VASCONCELLOS/THE ENTERPRISE
A shroud of fog clung to the frozen fringe of Amalio Giovanniello's foxhole as he dug into his pack and retrieved the latest batch of letters from the French girl.
He had been cold before, growing up in New England, but never like this.
He hadn't taken off his boots in weeks, and his feet were now encased in a cast of ice, grime, leather and wool. He knew the numbness in his toes was frostbite, but was helpless to stop its spread.
It was December 1944 in the Hurtgen Forest along the German-Belgium border and the Germans were dug in, a rifle shot away.
The boots had to stay.
Amalio Giovanniello, standing second from left, and fellow soldiers in 1944 in Belgium.
But Gio, as everybody called him, would risk removing his gloves so he could read the French girl's letters. She had written them on onion skin paper, and he would need every speck of feeling in his fingers to handle the delicate sheets.
He had read the letters before in other foxholes but each time picked up another word, or phrase, or hint of emotion he hadn't noticed before.
Today, however, was special he no longer needed his Cajun buddy from Louisiana to translate the girl's French.
She had started sprinkling English words through her letters, and Gio had learned enough of her language to decipher the rest.
For the first time, the boy from Brockton was alone with the girl from Paris.
Gio puffed on his hands to keep them working, and squinted into the tiny writing in the pale light of the forest. But as he read, he felt different.
Half-frozen, surrounded by death, Gio suddenly felt warm. He felt alive.
That's because Cpl. Amalio Giovanniello, huddled in a hole 4,000 miles from home in the midst of a world war, had just made a wonderful discovery.
I'm in love with this girl.
This is a story of love and war, of a man and woman who forged an extraordinary wartime bond through an exchange of letters even though neither one knew the other's language.
He was a first-generation Italian-American brimming with bravado who became a soldier, joined the largest invasion in history, survived the fiercest assault ever unleashed against an American army, helped free a continent and saved the world.
She was the demure Parisian who felt the Nazi occupation settle on the City of Lights like a pall, almost making her give up on life and love.
Fate brought them together, and they pledged themselves to each other in a way that transcends even their marriage vows.
They refer to their bond by the French phrase, la promesse eternelle, and it has withstood the tests of time, the strains of war and separation, the clash of cultures, and the fighting of families at odds.
Now, their eternal promise faces the ultimate challenge.
Both in their 80s, they spend every day as they have since marrying six decades ago together. But they pass many of their hours at Brockton Hospital, where she is being treated for cancer, or at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he is taking a stand against several illnesses.
In between treatments, they recuperate at their home on Glendower Street in Avon.
The war in Europe ended 60 years ago today, May 8, 1945, but as the world marks the historic anniversary, the man who calls himself an "old soldier" remembers more than the triumph of arms.
"Everybody's heard about war and how awful it is," Gio said. "That's not what I want to talk about. How many people know about true love and how wonderful it can be? Guess what I do."
The Allies had decided that the honor of liberating Paris would go to the Free French forces, so the Americans trailed Gen. Jacques Leclerc's armored units as they pierced the southwestern edge of the city.
Most of the Germans had retreated by the time Gio and the men of the 115th Antiaircraft Artillery arrived, but the unit needed spotters quick atop the highest buildings. The Germans had occupied Paris for four years, and they were expected to try to reclaim their prize in a counter attack.
Air strikes were feared.
As Gio and his unit worked their way through the suburb of Gentilly on the afternoon of Aug. 25, 1944, they scouted a nine-story apartment building. Its roof would make a good observation post.
In the first-floor apartment, behind a steel door, 21-year-old Paulette Limousin, her older sister Simone and their mother waited out the afternoon as they had so many during the occupation hoping for an end to the war, conserving their strength, wondering where they would find their next meal.
The previous day they had seen several German army trucks grinding eastward up the Boulevard Jourdan, but that wasn't unusual. German troops were billeted in the City University, across the street from the Limousins' apartment.
The enemy was their neighbor.
Paulette Limousin in Paris during World War II.
Then, Paulette saw them, out the window a group of soldiers approaching the apartment. There were about a dozen figures in dark uniforms and deep metal helmets at her door.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Paulette froze, waiting for the familiar German command: "Raus! Raus!" "Out! Out!"
But the muffled voice on the other side of the thick door spoke a different language: "Please open up."
Paulette almost fainted they weren't Germans.
The Americans had arrived!
She didn't understand the words, but pulled the door open to greet her liberators.
The soldier in front he seemed a bit shorter than the rest glanced at her, then scanned the room. He talked fast: "Who was she? Who did she live with? Were there Germans inside? Which way to the roof?"
Paulette stared at him.
The soldier brushed by her and began inspecting the small room, his finger feathering the trigger of his Browning Automatic Rifle. The other soldiers followed, weapons bristling.
The lead man, the one everyone kept calling Gio, had no idea he had just met the love of his life.
Gio wanted to get to the roof, but the elevator wasn't working, so he asked the French girl for help.
He spoke to her in English. Then Italian. She continued to stare at him.
Then, Gio remembered a man in his unit from Louisiana who knew Cajun French. He translated Gio's questions, and Paulette guided them upstairs.
As they climbed, Paulette felt weak, trying to make sense of the day her mind raced in a blur of celebration and confusion.
"The Germans had been there that morning, and the Americans in the afternoon," she said. "I didn't know what to think."
A day earlier, Paris had been clogged with the machinery and soldiers of the oppressor. The German soldiers, although polite enough to French women, were rigid, as if always on duty. To Paulette, they seemed detached, gloomy a bad fit for the City of Lights.
Not the Americans they were high voltage. They talked, flirted, smiled, shared cigarettes and supplies, and began breathing life back into a city that had been choked and starved by the occupation.
Paulette was particularly taken with the quick, talkative Italian-American, the one called Gio. His brown eyes seemed tired, but trusting. His dark, wavy hair, like hers, was piled high. And his smile with the Nazi infection having spread through her city, Gio's soft smile was pure penicillin.
Gio sensed the French girl's quiet strength that first day.
"I couldn't believe someone could look so good, so beautiful, after living four years under the Germans," he said. "Talk about deprivation. The French in Paris had nothing. Nothing for four years."
But little else about her struck him. After all, he had met many young French women as the Allies pushed the Germans from Normandy, across France to the Belgium border.
For a 22-year-old soldier mired in the ugliness of combat, all the French girls were beautiful, and they all gave Gio and the men of the 28th Army Division a hero's welcome when they rode into town.
But only one asked for his Army address Paulette.
Gio's unit spent three days in Gentilly, living in the same university building the Germans had occupied across the street. When he returned to the apartment building the second day to resume his lookout, an air raid siren blared, and everyone scrambled to the basement.
Paulette had heard the siren many times before, but usually refused to go below. This time, however, she complied. The basement, after all, didn't seem as foreboding anymore the Americans were with her.
Paulette shuffled in and found a spot on the dirt floor next to the young man who had knocked on her door the day before, the soldier with the tired but alluring eyes.
Gio smiled. Paulette smiled back.
That's all they could do, neither one knowing a lick of the other's language. Sit, stare and smile.
That suited Gio. His eyes didn't lie he was exhausted. It had been a long year, and as he sat in the basement his mind drifted back to all that had happened.
There had been boot camp and months of training back in the States, and a 12-day trans-Atlantic sail aboard a festering troop ship, on which it seemed everybody was throwing up.
There was more training in Britain, then the massing of troops at the coast for the June 6, 1944, attack on Fortress Europe D-Day.
Gio did reconnaissance for antiaircraft guns he wouldn't be part of the main assault on Normandy. Before he reached Omaha Beach, thousands of infantry would land and face the unforgiving fusillade of enemy machine gun and artillery fire.
The Germans were still shooting at the Allies inland when Gio's Higgins boat dropped its ramp onto Omaha.
There, Gio saw the aftermath of a day in hell. Bodies, or parts of them, packs, weapons, clothing, life jackets, helmets, ammunition containers, and bandages the blood and debris of a desperate battle blotted the beach.
Gio and his unit advanced into the countryside after a day at Omaha. Hard days lay ahead. Harder fighting.
One image still haunts him: "A guy manning his gun one day was shot right in the stomach by a (Messerschmidt) 109. He was knocked over. The plane turned for another pass, and I couldn't believe it this guy got up to man his gun. He was holding his guts in to get a shot at this plane. But then his legs buckled and he fell. Dead."
Many friends died, and every day Gio realized he was moving farther from friendly territory farther from home.
But he was also getting closer to the basement in Gentilly, and a French girl named Paulette.
Metro Editor Steve Damish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2005 The Enterprise