52 Ancestors, Week 10: Translation

It’s Week 10 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project, created by genealogist Amy Johnson Crow. And this week, the theme is Translation.

I have written before about my grandfather, Bart (Bartolomeo) Petrini, Sr., and his difficult childhood. When his parents died in the 1918 epidemic, he was left at the age of 11 to quit school and work for the coal mines to support his younger sisters. Despite early hardship, he grew up to be a brilliant, kind, and service-minded man with a career in politics and law enforcement. And in 1943, at the age of 37, he was drafted to fight as a private in World War II, leaving a wife and two small boys behind.

During his training, he was at an army camp here in the U.S. that also housed POWs. When officers needed someone to translate for them, they called on my grandfather. He grew up in the United States, but his Italian immigrant parents never learned much English, so he was fluent in Italian, as well. As a teenager in the coal mines, he’d been taken under the wing of a group of Polish miners, who had taught him their language. Many of the German prisoners spoke Polish, and there might have been Italian prisoners, as well. He proved to be so useful as a translator that his superiors put in a request for him to be reassigned there for the rest of the war.

But it was not to be. His unit’s orders to ship out came before the request was approved, and he went overseas to fight in some of the major European battles, including on the beaches of Normandy and in the Battle of the Bulge, where he survived an injury sustained in a bayonet fight with a German soldier.

In this photo with his unit, my grandfather is second from the left in the front row, up on one knee with his arms crossed in front of him, and looking uncannily like my father.

Next week’s theme: Lucky

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