Joseph M. Falzone’s love of music introduced him to the military while still in high school.
“I had joined the band at Seneca Vocational but was very poor and needed a trumpet. I was told if I joined the Army National Guard, they would give me a trumpet for playing in the Guard’s band at the Masten Armory. That way, I would have a trumpet for the school band,” Falzone explains.
There also was another incentive. He received a dollar for practicing with the armory’s band one night a week.
“That was 12 bucks every three months, and I gave it to my mother. That’s how poor we were,” he says.
After graduation, he found work at the Chevrolet plant in the Town of Tonawanda and decided against re-enlisting with the Guard. But there were consequences: He had to return the trumpet.
However, he and the military would soon be reunited, though they would not be making music together.
“There was the draft, and I heard about this electronics course you could take at the University of Buffalo, providing that you joined the Army’s Enlisted Reserve Corps,” he says. “It was a yearlong course, and when I completed it in May 1943, I was active duty.”
In 1944, he was assigned to World War II’s lesser-known China-Burma-India Theater, where he worked at isolated communications and fuel bases along the Burma Road, with most of the time spent in Kunming, China.
“I was in charge of three other signalmen maintaining a small piece of the communication lines from Calcutta to sites all over China. We kept up a 25-mile stretch,” Falzone recalls.
Japanese forces, naturally, disapproved of the Allies staying in touch with one another.
“The enemy would cut our lines, and we’d have to go out and make repairs. Sometimes there would be Japanese snipers,” Falzone remembers. “We were very careful. We’d fan out, … and they would send other troops to get them.”
There were close calls, but the one that sticks out the most in the 92-year-old veteran’s mind is a false alarm when they were first heading toward the Chinese mainland.
“We were driving from India into Burma to China. I had a 2½-ton truck. We constantly bounced along on the road, and one of my guys said, ‘How do you make wine?’ And I told him that night we would raid the mess truck and get raisins,” Falzone says.
“I filled an empty 5-gallon water tank on the side of my truck with raisins and water and let it ferment. About the third or fourth day, there was a big explosion. Everyone thought I got hit. The lieutenant stopped and came over to my truck and saw raisins everywhere, and he yelled at me. He said I scared everyone.
“That was the end of the wine.” But it wasn’t the end of the line.
During their time in Burma, conditions were hard.
“They had monsoons, mud and disease. I got malaria, but we had to keep moving. They gave me pills. I was shaking, burning up and had dysentery,” he says. “When we were in China, it wasn’t that great, either. We lived like tramps. We had to go from our outpost to bigger camps to pick up supplies.
“Then one day, we were ordered to come into our command post and told that a bomb had been dropped on Japan, but we didn’t know that it was a nuclear bomb. We found that out later.”
Allied troops were also ordered out of China.
“The Chinese Nationalists were fighting the Communists,” Falzone says. “They had fought together in the war, but when the war was over, they began their revolution, and the Communists won.”
Flown back to India, Falzone and other signalmen were assigned to a port battalion, and their job was to destroy U.S. weapons and ammunition rather than return them to the other side of the world.
In July 1946, Falzone returned to Chevy where he met his future wife, Eugenia DeMart, but he soon left the auto industry to become an electrician with Local 41, where he worked in construction for about 35 years.
Falzone says he is blessed that he, his brother, Salvatore, and his brother-in-law Tommy Muscato all made it home safe from the war.
The siblings of his bride, to whom he has now been married for 65 years and counting, were even luckier, he says:
“Eugenia had four brothers and a brother-in-law who all served in the war and made it home.”