In honor of “Quituates”
This is the time of year for high school graduation ceremonies and parties, where justifiably proud young people are honored and rewarded for their academic accomplishments. That tradition stretches back for many years, through good times and bad.
But what about those who didn’t graduate, especially in the bad times? They were never honored, because dropping out of school is considered a failure. But for some, it was an act of courage that deserves special commendation.
For Dominic Marletto, leaving school was a decision to meet the challenges of life, not to avoid hard work. He has coined a term that more accurately describes his choice.
“I quituated,” he says.
Dominic was born in Sharon in 1917. His parents were Italian immigrants.
“My father came first,” he said, “and then sent for my mother. They got married here. Father worked at different steel mills, then got job at Westinghouse when it opened in Sharon.”
Dominic grew up with three sisters and two brothers. He was 12, in about fifth grade, when the Depression hit.
“My father was working only two days a week,” Dominic said. “I told him I was going to leave school and get a job. He didn’t want me to, but I quituated in about 7th grade. I got a job with the WPA, and then joined the Civilian Conservation Corps.”
Dominic served with the CCC at Fork Union, Virginia, about 25 miles southeast of Charlottesville. They made roads, driveways, and other projects. They didn’t work much, because it was just a way for the government to keep people employed.
“They’d give you a couple of dollars out of your pay and send the rest home to your parents to help them out, too.”
After a year there, Dominic was going to “re-up,” but his father said he should come home.
“Dad told me work was picking up, so he could get me a job at Westinghouse. I came home and got an office job in production, doing paperwork.”
He worked at Westinghouse until he was drafted in November, 1942. After training at Indiantown Gap, PA, he could have been assigned to a military unit in a combat zone, or to a military post somewhere in the United States. Instead he was assigned to a post office box – actually, to a top secret prisoner of war camp known only as P.O. Box 1142.
Located at Fort Hunt, on the Potomac River just south of Washington, DC, very few people knew anything about it until about four years ago. At the camp, military intelligence officers interrogated high-ranking German prisoners of war, including Wernher von Braun, the scientist behind the development of the American ballistics missile program during the Cold War.
Those who were stationed there were bound by an oath never to speak about it, and the secret was kept by virtually every one of the 1000 people who served there – not just those who interrogated the prisoners, but even the support personnel such as Dominic, who supervised the work in the mess hall and served as substitute guard. And they kept that secret not just until the end of the war, but until about 2006 when news about the camp first became public. In 2007, Dominic participated in a ceremony to honor the vets who had served at Fort Hunt, which is now a public park.
Dominic might have served out the war there, but that was not to be.
“I got into it with the sergeant,” he said. “I did something or said something he didn’t like. I don’t remember what it was, but they shipped me overseas.”
After retraining as a medic, Dominic served in the South Pacific on Saipan and Tinian Island. The battles for those islands were long past, so there wasn’t much of a need for medics.
“We mostly stood around with nothing to do,” Dominic said. “One day we heard these planes going over, one every minute. Everybody wondering what was going on. It was the Enola Gay and other planes heading to Japan to drop the first atomic bomb.”
When Dominic came back home, he resumed his job at Westinghouse, but he wanted to do something more. He took a leave of absence from Westinghouse and went to photography school in New Haven, Connecticut, on the GI Bill. For the next twenty years or so, he continued working at Westinghouse while doing photography on the side.
But he didn’t do it alone.
“My sister told me she wanted me to meet this girl she knew,” he said. “So we go over there and I say hello, and she disappears! I thought, what the heck, I came to see her and she’s gone. Finally she did come back.”
The girl was Rose D’Urso.
“I had curlers in my hair, so I got into my little Ford and drove down the hill to downtown Greenville,” she said. “I parked there, took my curlers out, and went back home. It was so funny because I didn’t want to meet him at first.”
Whether or not Dom had even noticed the curlers in the first place, he was impressed.
“I told my sister I think I’ll call her for a date. After a couple of months decided to get married.”
Rose’s background was similar in many ways to Dominic’s. Her parents were also Italian immigrants.
“My parents lived in Philadelphia for a while,” she said. “One of my uncles sent Father to Greenville, saying there were jobs here on the Bessemer Railroad. I was born in Greenville and grew up there with five brothers and three sisters.”
Her mother never learned to speak English, and everyone had to speak Italian at home.
“My father would send to New York City for romance magazines in Italian, and he would sit and read them to her,” she said. “I listened to them, too. It was fun.”
Because of the all-Italian rule at home, Rose didn’t speak much English before she started school. She did adapt, but like Dominic, she “quituated” before she reached high school.
“Dad was making only a dollar a day to keep his family,” she said, “so I had to go out and do housework and laundry for people in Greenville. The few dollars I made, I gave to my mother.”
Rose and Dominic got married in 1947 at St. Michael’s Church in Greenville. Dominic continued to work at Westinghouse and to run his photography business.
“I did portrait photography, weddings, banquets, whatever,” Dominic said. “We fixed up our living room as a studio. Rose colorized some of the pictures.”
“Dom would go to their houses to take a picture of the family, then make them into Christmas cards or post cards,” Rose said. “We made them by the thousands.”
Living on Morton Street, then on Baldwin Avenue in Sharon, they had three children: Annette (born in 1949), Michael (1951) and Joseph (1953).
Those were the times some people call the “good old days,” but some of those days weren’t quite as good as others. Rose remembers an incident when she had some friends over to her house. Dominic was in the basement developing pictures.
“It was in June, and we never locked our doors. Some guy sneaked in through the screen door, and apparently watched us while we were in the living room. We went into the kitchen for dessert. One of my friends asked me to go to go get some cigarettes out of her purse. I went into the living room and said, ‘What purse?’ The man had stolen all of them except a big white one. One of the women had $500 in her purse that she was supposed to put in the bank. The man ran down Baldwin Avenue. They finally did catch him.”
Other days in those “good old days” were good, indeed. The Marlettos had a high-low camper-trailer that provided them with many enjoyable family travels.
“We took lots of trips with it,” Dominic said. “We used to go to Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, down to Florida, up to Niagara Falls, and fishing in Canada.”
After Dominic retired from Westinghouse, he and Rose managed apartments, first in Girard, Ohio, then in Austintown, and finally in Youngstown.
“We could live in the apartment buildings rent-free,” Dominic said. “It was fun, but there was a lot of responsibility.”
They retired from that and bought a house in Hubbard, where they lived for 18 years.
“I used to make home-made Italian sausage there, 50 pounds at a time,” Rose said. “I sold it for $1.25 a pound. It was my father’s recipe.”
Dominic had lots of tools, and loved to putter in the garage and do home repairs. He made benches, little boxes, and different things out of wood.
When keeping up the house became burdensome, their daughter suggested that they move into an apartment. They were the first residents of the Stone Ridge condos in Hermitage. After ten years there, they moved to Whispering Oaks, where Rose can relax and Dominic continues volunteering to help out with activities. Whispering Oaks has given him a number of certificates thanking him for his help.
All in all, Dom and Rose have done pretty well for a couple of quituates.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 4, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2010