Michael Joseph Barresi (b. 25 May 1924 Revere, MA d. 13 March 2010 Melrose, MA) My grandfather was born Mario Barresi, but his family always called him Michael. When he got a little older, he supposedly legally changed it to Michael Joseph, but I’ve never seen anything that stated his name was Mario. I wonder if my grandmother has his birth certificate?
Like so many men and women of his generation, my grandfather served in WWII. He proudly served as a Seabee in the US Navy stationed in Hawaii (post-Pearl Harbor) and Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. Hawaii = beautiful weather and Aleutians = 5 feet of snow. Yet, my grandfather used to say that he hated serving in Hawaii with everyone in their dress whites, having to salute officers and taking part in the ‘show.’ He said he enjoyed his time in the Aleutians much more. It was probably because he felt he was actually doing something, adding to the war effort.
The Aluetians are a strategic group of islands off the coast of Alaska and their proximity to Japan and the Pacific theatre made them valuable for Japan and the US. While in the Aleutians on the island of Adak, my grandfather’s unit was tasked with building airstrips for US planes to land so they could refuel and rearm. He was an electrician in the unit and his job was to build the generators that would light the airstrip and until the day he died, he was proud of what he did. I have many pictures of my grandfather from his time on Adak and he was a good looking kid. Always smiling, always laughing, and posing for the camera. I try and think of him this way, but it’s not how I always remember him. However, as I get older and now have a family of my own, I am able to look over some of his faults and personality traits that may have caused problems in my life. Instead, I think of my grandfather as an 18 year old kid from Revere, repairing shoes in green canvas tents with snow four feet high piled up outside. I think of him as a card player, making lists of people that owed him money. Sixty years later, he’d still be saying, “oh, him? he still owes me $20.”
I think of my grandfather as a young man returning from war, to a young girlfriend waiting for him, that he would marry and stay married to for over 60 years. When I think of my grandfather I remember his stories. How his mother sold the family vineyard in Sicily because she thought he was going to die in the war, when in fact, he never fired a shot, unless it was for fun during the downtimes on that Alaskan island.
My grandfather passed away less than a year after my daughter Ava was born so she’ll never know her great grandfather. He was at the hospital the day she was born and my grandmother says that when he would be home on the couch, watching his Westerns, he’d wave at her picture, and my niece Chloe’s picture, and say hi to them. This is the man I want my daughter to know. This the man that my father was named after, and therefore whom I was named after as well.