By: John Cuddy – Nov. 2023
Hailing from the long-gone Boston neighborhood, once known as the West End, Methuen’s James Fiorello graduated from Boston’s Mechanic Arts High School with the class of 1941. He then enrolled at Fitchburg State College, with the intent on becoming a teacher.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th changed the career plans for him and the sixteen million young Americans who served in World War II. The population of the United States in 1941 was one hundred and thirty-two million. Nearly twenty percent of all Americans alive on December 7th, served in the US Military during World War II.
Commissioned an Ensign in the US Navy, he was assigned to the USS Bexar (APA-237/LPA-237) a Haskell-class attack transport in service with the United States Navy from 1945 to 1970. He joined the crew as the ship embarked on her first deployment to the Pacific, as part of “Operation Magic Carpet.” James and the ship’s crew was tasked with returning US troops from the Pacific Theater, back to the United States, until February 1946. One of James’s most vivid war memories was spending Christmas 1945 in bomb damaged Tokyo Bay.
He said, “I have no bitterness towards the Japanese people, it was their leadership that started the war and continued fighting the war after it was lost.”
James also has very fond memories of liberty in San Francisco, California in 1945, prior to deploying to Japan.
He said, “The restaurants in San Francisco at the time, were beyond words, outstanding.” Returning from transport duty, the ship’s crew had a brief tour of duty around San Diego, during the early part of 1946. The ship was then ordered to Pearl Harbor to prepare for Operation Cross-Roads. Crossroads was the historic event on Bikini Atoll, designed to test the effectiveness of the atomic bomb on warships. Over two hundred warships participated in the operation, seventy-five of them as targets. James’s ship, the Bexar, served as the test’s equipment supply center.
After the war, James completed his BA with Fitchburg State. He then completed his MA at Springfield College. Finally earning a Doctorate in Education at the University of Connecticut. When North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25th, 1950, James, then a US Naval Reserve Officer, found himself back on active duty. He was re-assigned to serve once again on the USS Bexar, a ship named after Bexar County, Texas. During July 1950, the USS Bexar departed Norfolk, Virginia for the Mediterranean. In August of 1950, she was ordered to embark US Marines and proceed via the Suez Canal to Japan, and then on to service in the Korean War.
Upon arrival into the combat zone, the ship proceeded to the Korean coast, where James took part in the Inchon and Wonsan amphibious landings and the evacuation of Chinnampo and Inchon. Departing the Far East 1951, the crew proceeded back to San Diego, California.
After serving on active duty for twelve years, James went on to serve our Nation as a teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts, later serving as an assistant school principal in Barre, Massachusetts, and finally ending his teaching career as the Director of Vocational Education, in Somerville, Massachusetts. He also served as a Reserve Naval Officer for an additional thirteen years. James’s total US Naval Service was over twenty-five years as a commissioned officer. I asked James, who he felt was easier to supervise, US Navy Sailors and US Marines? Or American school children and American teachers? He said, “Being a wartime US Naval Officer is fairly easy, when compared to being an American school teacher or school administrator.”
James grew up with three brothers, all who have served in the US Armed Forces, one as a US Navy Seabee, another serving in US Naval Aviation, both during World War II. A third brother served in the US Army as a cook, seeing combat in Korea. James said while his brother cooked for his fellow soldiers, he always had a rifle nearby.
James and his wife Barbara have been married for sixty-three years. He is looking forward to his 101st birthday party on November 26th! US Naval Officer, Educator, Husband, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, and Great, Great, Grandfather, James Fiorello is a “hero in our midst.”
The Haverhill, Methuen, Andover, and Dracut American Legion Posts ask all World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans, to call (603) 518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington DC! Veterans of all eras are asked to go to the American Legion’s Web site www.legion.org, and join the American Legion, our mission is working with Congress, Veterans, and the Community, preserving our Veteran’s Benefits for future generations and serving all Veterans and their families.
John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as the Seabees) after retiring from the US Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 26 years. If you know a World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam War Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@Yahoo.com.◊