Providence VA Medical Center, Rhode Island
To Dad Across the Miles
Like many of his generation, Joseph F. Zarrella, from Cranston, R.I., enlisted in the Navy during World War II at the age of 17. While serving in the South Pacific on the USS Blue Ridge, three Japanese Kamikaze suicide planes attacked his ship. Two were shot down, along with a Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber, but the pilot of the third suicide plane veered away at the last second for reasons unknown, killing only himself.
Thinking he might not be so lucky next time, Joe wrote and sent a poem entitled "To Dad Across the Miles" home to his father, Vincent M. Zarrella, a World War I Navy Veteran. The poem was published in the local newspaper June 9, 1945, and the family clipped it from the paper, socking it away for safe keeping.
More than 70 years later, Derek D. Annese-Zarrella, a student living in Cranston with his grandfather Raymond J. Zarrella, found the clipping in the boiler room of the family home. An Army Veteran of the Korean war, Ray was Joe’s younger brother, along with two others: Vincent Jr., a Korean War Air Force Veteran, and Tom, who served in the Marine Corps Reserves. "Four brothers, four branches of service," Derek said proudly of his grandfather and grand uncles.
"I know that my grand uncle wasn’t the only brave young man who enlisted at that terrible time, but it is my belief that this poem uniquely connects the first and second world wars, and that it can help preserve the dying history of the World War II," Derek said. He added that the poem also helps tell the story of a local family with a strong tradition of service to our country.
Joe returned from war, after all, and the four brothers remained the "world’s best pals," owning and operating the Garden City Lanes bowling alley in Cranston for more than three decades. They also owned and operated Zarrella Plumbing and Heating, which was in business for 50 years and completed many projects at the Providence VA Medical Center.
But how to share the poem? Derek’s grandfather Ray, the last surviving brother, is a patient at the Providence VAMC, as was Joe. Derek said he thought it would be great if Veterans and other people visiting the VA hospital could see it and be reminded of the service and sacrifice of so many during the Second World War. So, he had the poem framed with a photo of his grand uncle, and he and Ray donated it to the Providence VAMC.
As luck would have it, the Providence VAMC was just beginning a project to display the service memorabilia Veterans have donated over the years, and the framed poem is on display in the 7th floor elevator lobby across from a World War II uniform.
Ray, Derek and Joe’s son, Joseph V. Zarrella, a resident of Johnston, R.I., visited the VA medical center Thursday, March 2, 2017, to see the poem and meet with the facility director, Dr. Susan A. MacKenzie, who thanked them for their donation and recognized their family’s service. "Sharing stories like this is one of those things that make VA so special," she said. "We’re honored by the donation and by the family’s service."
"Thank you, so much," said Ray as his family prepared to go. "And thank God for the VA. I couldn’t do without it."
To Dad Across the Miles
By Joseph F. Zarrella
You were in the Navy, Dad,
'Twas not so long ago,
You wore the uniform I wear,
And knew the things I know.
You fought for things that you held dear,
Just like I am,
That seems to make us buddies, Dad,
Wearing the Navy blue.
I know you'd like to be along
To see the battle through,
But, Dad, you've done your little bit,
Now I'll do mine, for you!
Your sacrifice gave me the chance
To know this land so fair;
So now I'll fight the best I can
To keep the things we share.
Sometimes at night when I'm alone,
The years reverse their flight;
And then I see us as we were,
In the days of summer light.
When I was just a little tyke,
And you were not so gray;
You took me hiking in the woods
And joined me in my play.
We picked the spring's first willow buds
And searched for water cress.
You, and I and Brothers Vin, Tom and Ray,
The world's best pals, I guess!
'Twas you who taught me how to love
The fields and shaded wood
And not to fear the lonely trail,
Cause, Dad, you understood!
There is a Lone Trail I may walk
Before the peace is made.
But, Dad, I've learned your lesson well,
I'll never be afraid!
And if, in heat of blazing fray,
The Master Calls my name,
I'll answer smiling – you know that
I'll never die in shame.
Someday, Dad, we'll do again
The things we used to do.
We'll tramp the painted autumn woods
That years ago we knew.
We'll breathe the clean, sweet country air –
I hope it soon may be.
These simple things are why I fight,
To keep them ever free!
Your son, Joe