"NOW HEAR THIS"
Subject: That Fateful Day
Published: November 1993
By: George Palella
I’d like to share another piece of memorabilia with our shipmates. It still lingers clearly in my mind.
I don’t know if anyone remembers Joe Pepe, MM 2/c. My brother Mike and I became acquainted with him aboard the Savannah and developed a close friendship. The fact that Joe’s home, in Brookiyn, was located about fifteen minutes from ours may have helped bond the friendship. Joe had been “keeping company” with a girl (also from Brooklyn) and they were seriously contemplating marriage. However, her parents objected strongly to any plans of marriage as long as the war continued. And so, the Savannah steamed out to sea with a very unhappy MM 2/c, who had made up his mind to get married on his next home leave.
One beautiful moonlit night after the Gela invasion had been secured, the Savannah, leaving a heavy wake, streamed westward – I believe in pursuit of Italian cruisers. Joe and I were topside, starboard of #5 turret, enjoying the cool evening breezes and wondering where we might be headed. The moonlight on the calm Mediterranean gave us that melancholy touch which made us ponder “how long before we get back to the States?” With his head lowered Joe said, “You know George, with all my talk about getting married, I don’t think I’ll make it back!” I tried to say something quickly, but I couldn’t. It brought a lump to my throat and ‘goose bumps’ all over me. In an effort to snap him out of his depressed state, I blurted out that he should never take that attitude. I told him, “We have a great crew and a sound ship which had been schooled guided by a calm, knowledgeable skipper. I know that we’re due to get into the thick of it, but Captain Cary and the crew (as one) will pull the Savannah clear.” Without raising his head he answered, “Yeah, I know – but I still don’t think I’ll get home – I just have a feeling.”
The morning of that ‘fateful day’ I was surprised to see Joe in the Marine Compartment, and after exchanging ‘hellos’ he decided he’d better get back with his repair party in the Ward Room. After the ‘hit,’ my repair party was forced to abandon the fast-flooding Marine Compartment. Wanting to help wherever I could, I found myself topside, aft, just in time to see Joe being carried on a stretcher. Tears came to my eyes and I noticed his limp body, with trickles of blood coming from his mouth and ear. “He knew,” I thought while remembering his “feeling.” As it turned out, my belief was also justified.
Then, I remembered that Mike’s YMS 207 was sweeping the Bay. I hurried to the signal bridge to try to locate the 207 and found her off our port bow. A signalman obligingly conveyed the “bad and good news” to my brother Mike.