Francis Bruni is among the few remaining World War II veterans who escaped unharmed from a sinking destroyer damaged by a kamikaze pilot during the Battle of Okinawa on June 10, 1945, some two months before the end of the war.
“I didn’t even get my feet wet,” he still marvels, speaking Friday during an interview at his Rockport home.
He served five years active duty in the Navy in both World War II and Korea. And his service especially hits home this weekend, when Americans honor all of our nation’s war dead, but with a special focus on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
His homage to his country and fellow service men and women also hits close to home because his older brother, Alfred “Sparky” Bruni was the first Gloucester serviceman to be killed in World War II. Another Gloucester boy, Don MacQuarrie, died not long after at a different battle.
Bruni, now 92, says he has never missed a Memorial Day since he returned from the service. A Gloucester native and graduate of Gloucester High School’s Class of 1938, Bruni recalled that he was part of the Junior ROTC program for three years at the high school, a program he credited for molding him into the person he became.
Of the many coincidences recounted, Bruni noted that both he and Sparky were in North Africa at the same time, but neither knew it. Bruni was in Casablanca at the time his brother was killed in action in the neighboring country of Tunisia.
“He died May 14, 1943,” he said, ”but I didn’t know until I got home,” he related. “After arriving at the Brooklyn Navy yard, I came back here and went to the YMCA in Gloucester.”
A YMCA staffer said to him that he was sorry to hear about Bruni’s brother.