Editor’s Note: East Greenwich will be holding its annual Veterans Day Parade on Wednesday, 10 a.m., from Academy Field, with masks and social distancing.
Greenwood Cove boys have been going to war for a long time. In fact, the town got started when the English King (Charles II) gave land to the locals, who helped defeat the Wampanoag Chief, Metacomet (also known as Philip), who started the first American Revolution because he felt he was being cheated of his lands and everything else by the God-fearing Christians, who started out in Plymouth, and then soon spread like locusts through everything else, crushing the poor Indians, who had saved their lives at Plymouth that first year, who were in their way.
Since then, Greenwood Cove boys had served in every conflict that the United States has been in from the Philip conflict to Vietnam to Iraq.
Fernando Finacchio was no different. Or, maybe, he was. When he got to Greenwood Cove High he was assigned to the “general” track. In those days the high school offered college, business and general tracks. The general track usually led to a blue collar job after graduation. Or, the service.
Fernando, also known as Ferdy and Nando, was born in the BTH section of Greenwood Cove. The BTH, which stood for Below The Hill, was the area below Main Street, where the middle and lower middle class ethnic families lived, cordoned off more or less by uneven boundaries, which shifted and then faded with the passage of time.
Fernando lived with his family in a three-story apartment building in what was considered the Italian section of the BTH. Some called it Chicken Hollow, others just called it names.
Fernando grew up there and he grew big. He was blessed with size and strength. Unfortunately, his growth was not as rapid in the smarts department. He struggled in school, and could not grasp much in the world of academia.
The wise superintendent, the principal and the football coach put their heads together and made part of Nando’s school day an assignment to assist school custodian Wheels Wilson. It would not be unusual for Brian to be sitting in Room 8 under the tutelage of Assistant Coach Ernie “Ironman” Zaccanazzi who also taught math, and look out the window to see Nando running the big industrial lawnmower, cutting the game field for Saturday’s action.
Nando played tackle on the football team. He was the kind of player who would tackle everybody and peel them away before finding the guy with the ball. He was an animal when he was in the game and understood what he was doing.
Still, the telling story about Nando was the tale about the Mapleville Mustangs game in Brian’s senior year. Coach Cherry called Nando over and told him to go into the game for Mingo Marinio and tell them to run a 6-2 defense.
Nando ran onto the field, tapped Mingo on the shoulder and said, “Coach wants you to run a 6-2 defense.” Then he turned around and ran right back to the sidelines.
Like Marlon Brando in “On The Waterfront,” Nando “coulda been somebody.” He coulda been a contendah. But like a lot of GCHS boys who found school too much and, sometimes, the complexity and practices of sport too much, he eventually gave up his school “job” and left to join the service. Eight starters did that Brian’s sophomore year.
Nando went into the Navy. It was there that his world started to fall apart. No one knows the true story. Was it drugs? Was it drinking? Was it a combination of that and the discipline of military life. No one knows for sure.
All that was known in the whispers of a small town, where everyone knows what everyone else is doing or thinks that they do, was that Nando had snuck back home and was staying home a lot and out of sight.
It was rumored that he had been booted out of the service with a dishonorable discharge. The facts and the DD weighed heavy on Nando. He was probably the only boy in town who had been branded with that disgrace. His father had served. His uncles had served. His friends served. His brother served. It was what GC boys did. Even those who took the college route. Especially boys from the BTH.
Nando thought about it for quite awhile. Then he did something no one had thought of! He went down to the Army recruiter and pleaded his case. He asked for a second chance! He asked to go in again! He volunteered for Vietnam.
The rest is in the history books. Nando went into the Army. Nando went to Vietnam. Not only that. Nando came home that second time, not only with an Honorable Discharge, but he came home with a Purple Heart! A Bronze Star! A Combat Service medal, and several other awards!
Nando redeemed himself! He put the shame behind. He once said he did it because that’s what GC guys do. That’s what BTH’ers do. They serve their country.
He got his second chance and made the most of it. He served. And that should be good enough!
Writer’s Note: Unfortunately, Nando’s story did not end on a happy note. The demons that plagued him on that first deployment snuck back into his life and he wasted away until he suffered through an early death. Not all stories, even the good one that this should have been, have a happy ending.
All for now. WML and in the Spirit of . . .