Many the brave, valiant the few…
By Dean M. Laux
You’ve gotta figure that any guy whose favorite authors include William Manchester, Cornelius Ryan and W.E.B. Griffin is a history buff with a special place in his heart for the trials and tribulations of the warriors who fought in World War II. Not necessarily the colonels and generals who rode the desks and forged the strategies for their troops, but definitely the dogfaces who slogged through the mud and slime, lost in the fog of war, as they gave their all to implement those strategies.
Local author Leonard A. Ferraguzzi is one such guy. Born in 1938, he was too young to take part in that war himself, but the stories of GIs and jarheads were part of his family lore as he grew up. In 1944, when Len was five, his mother received in the mail a package of goodies she had shipped to his cousin Joe, a U.S. Marine private serving in Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands. Along with the package was a letter informing her that Joe had been killed in action on November 5, 1943. Says Len, “The crushed package was oozing with the rotten, infested remnants of the foodstuffs” she had lovingly baked and sent to Joe. It always served in his mind as a poignant reminder that the costs of war are indeed severe.
Len was born in Manhattan, reared in Yonkers and schooled in Milford, Connecticut. After high school he earned a bachelor’s degree in history at NYU—but first he detoured to become what he likes to call a “voluntary draftee.” He took basic training and advanced infantry training at nearby Ft. Dix, New Jersey and was shipped to Germany, courtesy of the 3rd Infantry Division. There he got some first-hand experience in the field from 1959 to 1961, which gave him a taste of what life is like for the average GI Joe: in peacetime largely boring, in wartime largely hell.
When he returned to civilian life and finished his college degree, he went on to become a successful adman and entrepreneur. In his spare time he was an avid reader, feasting especially on whatever he could find in the way of historical fiction and nonfiction. He and wife Olga settled first in Redding, Connecticut but relocated to Florida in January 2000. He tried his hand at writing, without seriously considering becoming a published author. But that changed. “The reason I got into writing ‘Valiant the Few’ was because my son Lee (make that U.S. Marine Corps Captain Lee Ferraguzzi) was with the 1st Marine Division in Kuwait during Desert Storm. I was surprised at the books they were reading in their off time: W.E.B. Griffin’s novels and other books about World War II. They identified with the jarheads, the seamen and the GIs.”
Len devoured those books himself. Somewhere along the line, he says, it came to him that he could write this kind of book, too. Why not? He was literate, had an interest in the history of World War II, had a prodigious memory, was competent to research the literature and read the maps. And he knew how to tell a good story. “I wanted to do a book that would be historically accurate, right down to the buttons on their shirts,” he says. “I felt that the period from Pearl Harbor till the end of the war in 1945 was unique. America was one, united in one cause.” He wanted to write a novel that brought in all facets of the battle Americans faced, from the front lines in the ragged jungles of New Guinea and Guadalcanal to the snow swept mountains of Sicily and the etched valley of the Rhine. “I wanted to capture a tiny era in American history—the home front, the culture, literature, the fashion, the art and music. It was a time when everyone knew our battlefields—in Corregidor, Leyte, Iwo Jima, St. Lo and at Remagen Bridge—and we were together in all of this, paddling in the same boat.”
In “Valiant the Few” he has done what he set out to do. Len writes with an uncanny verisimilitude, in the jargon of the troops at the time and in the geography they fought for. If you read this book, you will find yourself sent back to bombed-out Corregidor with the 4th Marine Regiment in 1942. You’ll suffer in the swampy, steamy terrain of Guadalcanal, fighting to recover the crude airstrip at Henderson Field. You’ll join Colonel Gavin’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team in Kaiouran, Tunisia, waiting to step aboard a C-47 gooney bird for a midnight drop on Sicily. And you’ll be rooting for your buddy, “Woody” Luzak, and his family to make it through to VJ Day.
Author Ferraguzzi is blatantly biased in favor of the home team, just as those of us who lived through World War II were. And he saves most of his salutes for the gritty enlisted men and gals who gave so much for so many of us in World War II. Like Maxwell House Coffee, his work is good to the last drop.
And that drop’s good, too.
“Valiant the Few” is available on Amazon.com.