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(Tribune News Service) — Like fathers, like sons, and Chuck Calalesina has the photos to show it.

The night before Immaculate Conception Parish in Ravenna, Ohio, honored the Rootstown resident and other veterans with a Mass and recognition event Nov. 7, Calalesina was going through old photos from his Army service in Vietnam and came across one of himself and a friend he knew from high school in Jamestown, N.Y. His friend was in the Air Force and the photo was taken just outside Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, across the road from Tan Son Nhut Air Base in 1969.

It was a nice rediscovery, but what he found next was a total surprise.

"He had just gotten in country and I was at headquarters and that was where he had to go to catch a flight to go to his assigned area," said Calalesina. "So he stopped over and we took a picture of each other, you know, someone took a picture of us. And I was looking through it and I said to my wife, 'Hey, here's Joe Gatto, the guy I grew up with.' So after I put it to one side, I started going through all my dad's World War II stuff, his photos and things, and I'm going through it and find a picture of him when he was down in Fort Polk, La., in basic. He's standing there with a guy he had grown up with. I turned it over and it says, 'Myself and Frank Gatto.' And I said, 'I can't believe this.' That was a picture of my dad and one of his good friends."

As it so happens, Frank Gatto was Joe Gatto's father. Calalesina knew that his father, Clarence Calalesina, and Frank Gatto were friends, but he did not know they were in the Army together.

"All these years I never realized I had these pictures — father, son, father son — and both of us in the service celebrating our friendships and honoring our country by serving in the military," he said. "It was just kind of cool."

Calalesina does not know exactly when the photo of his father and Frank Gatto was taken, just sometime during World War II. Clarence Calalesina trained as an infantryman and after basic training at Fort Polk, he would go to Europe after the D-Day landings in June 1944. But there was some delay.

"I know that he drove. He was a driver for officers, for a general, and then he worked in different assignments there," said Calalesina. "I know he was in France. It was right after D-Day because my uncle went over, his brother, went over first in a tank. My dad was ready to go over. My uncle landed, like in the second or third wave of D-Day, and he was wounded as his tank was moving through France and he was sent home. My dad, if something had happened to [his uncle], he would have been the only son, so they held him up until they knew [his uncle] was going to be OK and then they shipped him over to Europe."

Clarence Calalesina died in 2013.

His son served in Vietnam for 13 months, working in data processing in a Military Assistance Command, Vietnam unit.

"We received information from the field and we processed it throughout the evening and then in the morning, we had reports that went to the chief of staff and provost marshal and the top brass," he said.

He now works for Direction Home Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities, working with the Portage County Veterans Service Commission to help elderly veterans receive all of the benefits they are entitled to.

"A lot of these guys in the nursing homes haven't really contacted the VA since they got out and, you know, 30, 40, 50 years later their conditions could have gotten worse and they could get more funding and other benefits they didn't know about," he said.

Calalesina says he is now hoping to contact his old friend Joe Gatto.

"Since that photo, I'm starting to see if I can find him again because believe it or not, that was the last time I saw him," he said.

A clue he has is Frank Gatto's 2006 obituary that his wife found on the Internet. According to it, Joe was living in town in North Carolina at the time.

"So I'm going to try and reach out to him, to find him and send him a copy of these two photos," Calalesina said.

jsaunders@recordpub.com

(c)2021 Record-Courier, Kent, Ohio

Visit Record-Courier, Kent, Ohio at www.recordpub.com

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