By Matt de Simone
Lord Botetourt High School students were privileged to learn about a critical moment in American history last week.
Bruce Ingram’s English 10 Advanced Studies class welcomed World War II Army veteran Joseph Damiano to the school last Wednesday. Damiano’s visit coincided with the students’ World War II unit of studies. Damiano filled the Q&A with recollections, laughter, and memories of one of the most pivotal moments in American history.
Damiano spoke briefly about his time in England, living with a family before arriving in Normandy four to five days following the D-Day invasion. Following that, Damiano and his troop moved into Paris during the liberation of France. He served three years in the Army supplies department with “everything but ammo,” including food, clothes, and equipment.
Ingram asked Damiano a batch of questions submitted by students. Damiano first answered a question about his learning of “Operation Overlord,” also known as the codename for the Battle of Normandy, from June 6 to late August 1944.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Damiano said when asked about first learning of the Normandy operation. “You find yourself in that situation maybe once in a lifetime. That was it, but we made it.”
Damiano traveled from New Jersey to California to begin his military career. Before arriving in Europe, Damiano experienced “desert training” in the Mohave Desert because he and his fellow soldiers thought they were headed to the Pacific. Soon after, his unit ended up in England a short time after completing their training.
Ingram posed a question about Damiano’s desert experience. Damiano quipped that one takeaway from his training was to never “run out of water.”
When asked about his initial arrival in Normandy, seeing the damage done throughout the beach, all Damiano could do was “go with the flow,” stating that some of those memories are “difficult to talk about.”
After the war, Damiano moved back to Virginia and began a career in the insurance industry for the John Hancock and Prudential insurance companies.
“It was a great feeling to return home,” Damiano added. He was then married to his fiancé, Alberta, weeks after coming home, and most wanted to be around loved ones that he was forced to be away from during the war. Damiano noted that he always wrote Alberta and couldn’t wait to hear back from her while he was overseas.
Before Damiano met and spoke with the students, Ingram’s English 10 Advanced Studies class gave student-led presentations in the classroom about culture during the World War II era. Some presentation topics touched on weaponry used by the U.S. military, 1940s radio shows, and lectures about June 6, 1944 (D-Day) and the following days on Normandy Beach post-invasion, where Damiano was stationed for a brief time during his service.
“The students are teaching the class on these days,” Ingram explained. “That’s a wonderful thing. I’ve been doing this since 1974 and still learning stuff. They’re teaching me things [about the war], and I look forward to that.”