|Two years ago, the Orlando family of Raritan made hundreds of letters written to tavern owner Tony Orlando from World War II GI’s available to the public. There were a variety of letters from different places and many soldiers, but the letters written by Al Gaburo stood out from the rest. His letters home were captivating and highly descriptive of his experiences.
|Al Gaburo was born in Raritan in 1908. His parents had come from Italy to find a better life in the U.S. He lived in a house on the corner of Anderson Street near St. Ann’s. (The home has since been rebuilt.) He attended Somerville High School where he was an all-star baseball player as an outfielder. He graduated in 1927 In an era where few attended college, but Al Gaburo desired a college education and graduated from Drexel University in 1931. He majored in math because the precise calculations required appealed to him. After college, he joined with his brothers Tom, Gene, and Matty in the family business, Gaburo’s Laundry which they started in the 1920s. Al became the business manager and reinvigorated the business - setting it in the right direction as it had floundered in the early years. Their building that had the washers and dryers was on Farrand Avenue in Raritan. The laundry was primarily a delivery service serving all of Somerset County. Their primary customers were families that had a few extra dollars or a household where the mom worked full time.
|Outside of business, Al Gaburo was involved in the local community and looked to help others. One family he helped was the Basilone family as the parents spoke (and wrote) mostly Italian. Al would help them understand any bills and contracts that they needed help with. In the fall of 1943, when John Basilone came home to Raritan for a couple months after being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, it was Al who drove John around to meet people and to talk with various organizations. During this period, Al’s son was born. Al asked John Basilone to be the boy’s Godfather and John gladly accepted. This was in September of 1943, in the middle of the war. At the time, Al Gaburo was 35 years old, married with an infant son and running a business. No one thought that he belonged in uniform serving in the military. But Al, inspired by John Basilone’s heroics, thought maybe he wasn’t too old after all to join the service .His desire was to enlist in the Marine Corp., just like John Basilone. Al approached the Marine Corp to see if they would take him. He may have been older, but his college degree and business background made him a rare recruit. Thus, the Marines decided that he could be put to good use. So Al Gaburo, at age 35, to everyone’s surprise would enter the Marine Corp. He said goodbye to his wife and his young son to join the other Raritan men who were fighting against an evil enemy whose goal was global domination.
|In the Marine Corp., he was assigned to administrative positions of authority. Stateside he was given the job
of interviewing the new Marines to see what their skills were so they could be assigned to jobs that matched their experiences. Later, he would
be in charge of the payroll for his battalion. When his unit moved overseas, he was given the important job of mail coordinator.
Ten letters that Al Gaburo wrote home to Tony Orlando survive today.
His first letter dated April 30th, 1944, was written during the grueling days of boot camp. He seems to have learned a few life lessons quickly writing:
You really can’t appreciate some of your friends until you go to some distant point and it is then that you ponder and wonder what you left behind.
He also seemed to enjoy the challenge of being a Marine:
The Marine Corp is a tough outfit, you work 20 hours a day and like it. And along with that you have to take a lot of criticism from the drill instructor. It is a tough life, but I really do like it. It’s kind of bad on me because of my age, but I do have the determination to be a good Marine.
|While the other soldiers in their letters to Tony Orlando would give a simple thanks to Tony for the “swell” package
they received, Al was much more thorough in his remarks as his letter illustrates:
I received your package today and wish to take the opportunity to thank you immensely for your extreme thoughtfulness. It makes one feel swell to know that someone back home remembered. It wasn’t just the contents in the package, it is the sentiment that comes along with it.
As a guy who looked out for the soldiers, Al shared those packages with the other Leathernecks telling Tony:
Incidentally the (food) package that you sent did not last very long Tony. When we receive anything from home, we just yell “boys” come and get it – and before you know it, it’s all gone.
In this letter from August 1944, he echoes the sentiments that soldiers have for the fun places in their hometown:
Tony its Sunday afternoon and I could just picture the boys at the Centennial Tavern. Some busy at the bar, a group playing boss, others playing cards and shuffle board, and some just hanging around. I often think about that for it does bring back pleasant memories.
When he first arrived overseas in the Pacific on the island of Guam in Jan 4th, 1945, he still seemed to have a positive outlook on things as he wrote:
I have reached my destination safely thanks to the Navy. Censorship prohibits me designating the island that I am on. I’m somewhere in the Pacific. The island that I am on is a most beautiful one and just strewn with coconut trees. Just beyond the camp lies the beautiful blue Pacific reflecting its eight various colors of water. It is an ideal place for a vacation – after the war.
|In the midst of war any beer would do as the passages below reflect:
The only beer they serve us is Ballantine. While at home it didn’t taste so hot, here it is considered a premium beer, and it does taste pretty good. Beer is rationed to a case a month per individual. It is warm beer but it serves the purpose. The boys back home would refuse warm beer, but here we welcome it.
Al seemed to enjoy the centralized roles given to him.
I was appointed the Battalion’s mail clerk. I rather like the setup and find my work very interesting. Mail is something that the boys look forward to as it has a great tendency to uplift their morale.
He was at time humorous - in reference to his friends who hunted at home - he had this to say to them:
I presume the hunters at home would have the time of their lives out here. All the ammunition they want and the choice of weapon. The only bad feature about it is that the things you shoot at have a great desire to fire back.
|In 1945, Al Gaburo would move from Guam to the battle of Iwo Jima. There he would learn of the death of John Basilone.
He took the loss of his friend very hard. He would write to Tony a couple times about it:
The death of John Basilone has been a very severe blow to me. It is something that is hard to believe. We will see him no more. Those of us that knew him can well remember his fine qualities. His name will go down in history and will be a living tribute to every boy in America. He will live forever. Father Russo (of St Ann’s in Raritan) has made preparations for a mass for John Basilone on the morning of May 19th. While mass is being said in Raritan I will kneel here and pay my respects at the same time. John’s brother George and I visited John’s grave on Iwo Jima many times. It was hard to do, but we had to pay our respects to one that was so close to us. We mourn his death as we do many others that made the supreme sacrifice. May his soul rest in peace.
Toward the end of the war, the Japanese refused to surrender; and Al gave his thoughts on them:
The nips are taking a terrible pounding by air and losing ground consistently. How much longer can they hold out? They know, as well as us, that victory for us is eminent. Yet they hate and fear shame, but damned they will be - each and every one of them.
|When the war ended on August 1945, Al wrote one of his best letters. Here are the highlights:
To us it meant that the horrors of war were a thing of the past. We received the news with a great deal of happiness. We celebrated by cheering and singing. Most of us went to the chapel and gave thanks to the Lord. It meant that we would no longer have to trust our luck. It meant we would soon be returned to our loved ones. From the reports that I get, I rather surmised that you boys in Raritan had a hell of a good time upon hearing of Japan's surrender. Your letter to me was self-explanatory. I could readily see that you were one happy person … I was happy to note that you made your promise good Tony. I well remember the day when you told me the very words that "your place would be open to everyone when final victory came!" I do admire you for your sincerity … I could just picture the gang parading the streets of Raritan, drunker than hell. I'll bet they even brought their bottles along with them. Lucky Stiffs.
After the war, Al would be involved in many local organizations. He was very active in the Raritan Chamber of Commerce and the Somerville Elks where he served as the exalted ruler. In 1973, the family sold Gaburo’s Laundry and Al Gaburo retired to Florida. In 1986 he developed lung cancer, but he avoided telling anyone that he did not have to, including most of his family as he did not want anyone to worry. He passed away in February of 1987.