As a young man, Michael Carattini recalls his father’s advice to him at the outbreak of World War II. “He said, ‘Don’t you volunteer for military service because they’re [the Germans] going to get you quick.’”
But against the wishes of his father, Carattini, one of four boys in his family, voluntarily joined the U.S. Air Force, following in the steps of an older brother who also became an airman. His two other brothers enlisted in the Navy.
“All of us were in the service,” said Carattini, who ultimately became a flight engineer for C-46s and C-47s. “These were transport planes that were used to take supplies to the British.”
A longtime Jersey City resident and former small businessman, Carattini, 87, is among a handful of World War II veterans who are still able to share their war experiences with generations of people who have only read about this era in history books.
‘What I learned from my service, and from that period, was you have to be strong.’ – Michael Carattini
‘I was lucky’
After initial training in Mississippi and Missouri, Carattini was sent overseas to India where he spent about two and a half years assisting the allied effort against the Germans.
“That was exhilarating! That was my first time out of the county,” Carattini noted.
The experience, he said, gave him new respect for the Indian soldiers who fought on behalf of the British military.
“I remember, they’d have knapsacks around their knees full of hand grenades and they’d jump out of planes. It was something else,” Carattini recalled. “They were small people but they were nervy and terrific.”
Later he added, “I was lucky. I made it back home. The only thing I got from the war was malaria,” Carattini said, adding that many U.S. servicemen did not make it back home. Other friends he made in the service have also passed away, making it difficult to reminisce about the old days.
“When you get older, all the friends you had in service disappear,” Carattini said. “Most of my friends have passed away and two of my brothers are buried. I don’t talk much about my days in the war because younger people don’t know I was there and don’t ask. Then, the older people who know about my past are gone.”
Born in Puerto Rico, Carattini moved to Jersey City as a child and was raised here. He returned to his adopted home after his military service and married the former Anna Strausky, who has her own memories of the World War II period.
“There was rationing. People were denied a lot of things,” she said, remembering shortages on butter, milk, and gas during the war.
Like many women, Strausky worked through the war years. She worked at Quartermasters, near what is now the Harborside area, which Carattini described as a “staging area for troops and equipment that was going overseas.”
Strausky and Carattini described themselves as “casual friends” before the outbreak of the war.
“Over where Liberty State Park is now, there used to be a canal,” said Carattini. “They used to have the Lackawanna warehouses and we would go swimming in the Hudson River. We would climb ladders to the roofs and jump into the water.”
After the war they reconnected and married. Together they raised four daughters and Carattini operated a hardware store that is now known as Architectural Hardware at 169 York St. downtown.
For his service Carattini was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three air medals. These honors were bestowed on him for assisting the British on the Burma peninsula, he explained.
“That’s all behind me now,” said Carattini. “I’ll be 88 in July. But I guess it’s good to remember sometimes.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.