May 25, 2002 - Arizona Republic: A tribute to those who put lives on line

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 05 May 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: May 25, 2002 - Arizona Republic: A tribute to those who put lives on line

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 1:21 pm: Edit Post

A tribute to those who put lives on line

Read and comment on this op-ed piece by Peleliu RPCV Steve Wilson which is a tribute to those who put lives on the line for us at:

A tribute to those who put lives on line *

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

A tribute to those who put lives on line

May 25, 2002

The island of Peleliu in the far western Pacific, a six-mile-long speck of tropical beauty. Three decades ago, I served there as a Peace Corps volunteer.

It was one of the best experiences of my life, and it was made possible by men like Jay Piccinati of Scottsdale.

When he landed on the island in 1944, villagers didn't stand on the shore handing out leis, as they did when I arrived. He was greeted by a hellish storm of mortar shells, rifle fire and machine-gunning from 11,000 Japanese soldiers.

Peleliu, with its valuable airstrip, was a steppingstone in Gen. Douglas MacArthur's campaign to retake the Philippines. The generals expected to the fight to last only a few days, but they were wrong.

The Japanese were well-fortified in mountain caves. Bloody, hand-to-hand combat would go on for eight weeks in one of the most ferocious battles of World War II.

Winning the fight cost the lives of 1,600 Americans. An additional 6,500 were wounded, including Piccinati.

He grew up in Colorado, graduated from Denver University and married Evelyn Underwood before the war. The young lieutenant hit the beach with the first wave of Marines, but a mortar shell landed close, ripping into his right arm. Casualties were heavy; he was pinned down on the beach five hours before being rescued.

Two weeks later, he wrote his wife a letter. Their daughter, Adele Swan of Phoenix, shared it with me.

Dear Eve-

It has taken a lot of willpower to write what I am about to reveal. I was hit on the right arm by a piece of shrapnel. It became necessary to amputate the entire arm, so badly was it mutilated. I sincerely believe myself capable of earning a decent livelihood. But when it comes to asking you to undergo all this with me, I think I love you too much to ask you to remain attached to a partial husband.

She promptly wrote back: "Don't be ridiculous. We're a couple for life."

Next month, they will celebrate their 62nd anniversary.

After the war, he earned a master's degree at Stanford University and became a high school teacher and coach in Colorado Springs. Years later, a friend asked him to go into the car business with him, and they opened a Pontiac dealership in Mesa. Piccinati bought the dealership in 1962 and opened others in Flagstaff, Sedona, Sierra Vista, Bisbee and Prescott.

"I always tried to make the best of everything," he said. "I never worried too much about the arm. I felt lucky to be alive."

After we talked about 1944, I told him a story about arriving on Peleliu in 1968. The entire village turned out to welcome us, and our Peace Corps director had this to say:

"Twenty-four years ago, Americans landed on your beaches. They came in war. Thousands of our soldiers, your people and Japanese were killed.

"Today another group of Americans have arrived. W e come in peace."

His words were translated, and the place fell silent. It was an inspiring moment.

I was able to teach English to kids on Peleliu because Jay Piccinati and thousands like him came first, putting their lives on the line.

They deserve our admiration, our respect, our immense gratitude.

Memorial Day. Every day.

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