Two Sons Share Their Fathers' Experiences from Boston to Berlin

Two Sons Share Their Fathers' Experiences from Boston to Berlin

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

They were contemporaries who led parallel lives, sons of immigrants who grew up less than 20 miles apart, came of age in Depression-era Boston and fought at the same time in the World War II European Theater. But Frederick Mauriello '51 and Roland Regan Sr. never met, never even knew of one another.

Now, thanks to their sons, the two are linked in history and memory - and to Boston College as well.

Roland Regan Jr. '77(right) and co-author Christopher Mauriello look over photos and other memorabilia belonging to Regan's father that are now housed in Burns Library. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Roland Regan Jr. '77 and Christopher Mauriello are the authors of From Boston to Berlin: A Journey Through World War II in Images and Words, a soon-to-be-released collection of their fathers' war-time photographs and letters. The book, and the project from which it evolved, has significant ties to Boston College: One co-author and one of the subjects are alumni, and much of the material used in the book is being donated to the Burns Library archives.
At a time of renewed appreciation for the World War II generation, Regan and Mauriello say their project is a fitting tribute to the era's citizen soldiers, honoring them not only as warriors but men from modest backgrounds immersed in the formative experience of their lives.

"It's more than a military or social history of World War II," said Mauriello, an assistant professor of history at Salem State College. "These were two young men going out into the world for the first time, and both tried, each in his own way, to make sense of what was happening around them."

Frederick Mauriello channeled his impressions and observations of life with the 309th Artillery Battalion 78th Division through his letters home. "He's a born storyteller par excellence," said Mauriello of his father, now almost 80 and living in upstate New York. "The myth we heard growing up was that he'd read every book in the Revere library. Because of his interest in literature, he found it very comforting to write home, whether for himself or for other soldiers."

The senior Regan, who died in 1989, preferred to document his experiences with the 348th Army Engineering Combat Battalion Company A through photography, a hobby he would continue to pursue as a civilian - to the extent of setting up a darkroom in the station house of the Lynn Fire Department, where he worked for 34 years.

"Our family had a photographic record, even going back to Ireland in the 19th century," said Roland Regan Jr., executive vice president of the Marblehead-based sports event development and management consultant firm ProMonde Inc. "My father was always very sentimental about photos and took very good care of them, and it helped him develop a real skill set."

When Regan came across a box of his father's wartime photos in 1995, he set about organizing and digitizing the images, with an eye to donating them for use in researching and teaching about World War II. His inquiries eventually put him in contact with Mauriello, who had recently discovered a collection of his father's letters to home from 1943-45, the same approximate period covered by Regan's photos.

"The more we talked and looked at each other's materials, the more we realized how many parallels there were between our fathers," said Mauriello. "Their parents were immigrants - Roland's from Ireland, my father's from Italy - and both volunteered for active service in the army. They saw action during the same time and were in roughly the same geographic area of Europe.

"My father wrote for the same reason Roland's dad took pictures. They wanted to capture what they saw or heard, for themselves as much as their families or friends."

Roland Regan Sr. (second from right) and friends from the 348th Combat Engineering Battalion Company A near the end of the war in Germany, holding lugers taken from captured German officers. (Photo courtesy Roland Regan Jr.)

Regan added, "Putting their words and pictures together in one book, we thought, would present the war in the unvarnished, realistic way men like our fathers experienced it."

Because his father returned home with a considerable amount of undeveloped film, Regan points out, the prints he produced were not subject to potential military censorship. One series of shots recalls his battalion's visit to the recently liberated Woebbelin concentration camp, with prisoners' corpses and mass graves still in plain view. Other photographs depict destroyed German cities and aircraft, as well as posed portraits of Regan and his comrades-in-arms, their smiles weary but heartfelt.

"He took pictures of what he thought was meaningful or significant, not what military publicists, officers or civilian photojournalists would consider important," said Regan of his father.

By turns reflective, perfunctory and pointed, with unexpected touches of lyricism and poignancy, Mauriello's letters chronicle his journey from basic training to Belgium, through flashpoints such as the Battle of the Bulge and Remagen Bridge, to the collapse and occupation of Germany. He describes Paris as "an oasis of beauty in a dessert [sic] of destruction," and notes the fear and disdain his battalion encounters from the residents of a conquered German town.

In one of his most powerful and eloquent letters, Mauriello shares with his mother his ambivalence about the celebratory atmosphere around VE Day. He and his fellow soldiers cannot share in the enthusiasm, he says, with so much sacrifice behind them and more work ahead - namely in the Pacific, where he and many other European-based GIs expected they would be transferred shortly.

The war "has cost lives and years of youth that can never be replaced," writes Mauriello, recalling days when football was the only kind of conflict he and his peers knew.

"The boys of that team that we called our own, are walking across the page. I can't see them [...] all my eyes are blustered with tears. The boys of that team will never gather together as a unit to talk over past glories. They played the game too hard [in] the fields of Belgium and France. We miss them. They will only run and play in past memories. The game is over for them. They didn't even see the last touchdown drive.

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"No, merely put their names in gold in the towns and cities' memorials."

Christopher Mauriello says his father's letters aptly demonstrate the matter-of-fact, pragmatic view of the war held by many GIs. "It was a job they had to do," he said. "Was it exciting? At times, yes, but Dad would also say it was 'horrible.' There were reasons to smile, and many more to cry or to become angry or afraid. But he and Roland's father, and all the other guys with them, would never forget or let the world forget what they experienced."

Mauriello and Regan say they hope to use the book's proceeds to set up a scholarship fund at BC for students from their fathers' hometowns.

More information on the book and project is available on-line.


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