By Gwendolyn Amador
Dr. Mike was born and raised near Gaeta, Italy, and he survived the Nazi invasion and occupation of the area. To hear him tell it, the nourishment that brought him back from the brink of starvation was one lone Hershey bar and the American spirit that motivated the soldier who gave it to him. Little “Dr. Mike” was barefoot and surviving on the juice from weeds. Hope was a foreign word for the lad until Operation Husky brought the Americans who shared their rations to keep him alive and who gave him a pair of boots for his bare and battered feet. Now an elderly man, he still has those boots.
These days, Dr. Mike is a frequent on the small American Navy base in the beautiful gulf of Gaeta, former homeport to the U.S.S. LaSalle, flagship of the Sixth Fleet. His mission is to sing the praises of his beloved homeland, Italy, and his hero-land, America. He has literally been around the globe in his tireless work to bring the hands of world leaders together in agreement and in support of the great American ethic. Known in numerous countries simply as “Dr. Mike,” he is well known and loved; yet while he dines with world leaders, he is never too good for a chat in the hallway with a commoner like me. As a matter of fact, every person in any hallway with Dr. Mike is destined to hear his story.
You see, Dr. Mike understands the pit from which he was dug, and he has never forgotten his humble beginnings or his benefactors. He shared with me, in his effervescent way, his utter joy at being alive and having purpose. At a certain point, he found himself at a loss for words. Finally, he said to me, “Signora, I am a made man. I know this. Italia gave me birth. France gave me culture. But America — America gave me liberty.” Then, with one hand over his heart, and the other stretched toward a nearby American flag, he declared his undying support for my country.
I can’t help but turn the spotlight inward. I have feasted at the great American table all of my life. How far will I go to protect the values that shaped this singular country? In what ways will I express my gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy? Better yet, with what degree of commitment will I proclaim the goodness of my Lord, Who has done so much more than saving me from starvation and driving away my enemy that I might live safely? I have been redeemed! I have been bought from the block of bondage and given a place in the eternal family of God. I’m a child of the King! Will I be like Dr. Mike and commit my life to the cause of my Redeemer?
Will I be gracious in my approach but uncompromising in my devotion? Will I take every opportunity to share my story? Oh, I know, I know. Of course I will because I’m a chaplain’s wife and I have a built-in identity as one who stands for Christian values. The house number placard in my front yard proclaims that my husband is a chaplain; even my license plate identifies me: “CHAPSWIF.” But will I take the opportunity to share hope with the young fellow blessing me with a pedicure when he tells me, “Oh, I don’t have any friends. This right here is my life, right here at this mall”? Will I share loving Truth with the young lady in the bookstore who confesses to me, for some reason, that she lives with her boyfriend? Will I offer a hand and heart of help to the young mother who’s overwhelmed in the mall with small children and the knowledge that her husband may give his life for his country today in a far away land? Yes, I can give a devotion, write an article, sing a special from the platform. But will I exude my rescue in the middle of the hallway to every blessed soul I can get to listen?
Dr. Mike is the founder and president of the Vincent R. Capodanno Association in Gaeta, which functions as an advocate for American interests on Italian soil, facilitates ongoing good will and communication between America and Italy, and promotes interaction between Americans and Italians.