WYOMING — Mention the phrase “band of brothers,” and some people will think you’re recalling a popular 2001 mini-series.
Others might think you’re reciting the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s play “Henry V.”
When Earl Watson talks about a “band of brothers,” he means his group of lunch-table buddies who all live at the Wyoming Manor Personal Care Center on Wyoming Avenue.
Their service spans different eras and different continents, but they’re all military veterans. That’s created a bond for 88-year-old Watson, 70-year-old John Ciliberto, 80-year-old Daniel Mazeroski, 75-year-old Mike Latzko and 92-year-old George Nisky.
Nisky’s memories include being drafted as a senior in high school and sent to Europe to serve during World War II as a radio operator with the 69th Division. He remembers carrying a radio that he estimates weighed 40 pounds, and encountering bodies of dead soldiers and dead horses after the Battle of the Bulge.
The Battle of the Bulge — a desperate, last-ditch-effort by the German Army — had taken place in the Ardennes region of Belgium, France and Luxembourg from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, and when Nisky arrived on the scene on Feb. 13, 1945, the bodies were still there.
“I was very scared and terrified,” he said, recalling how he also suffered frostbite on his feet due to the extreme cold.
Nine years later, Watson was serving with the Army Public Information Office as a correspondent for the Pacific Stars & Stars military newspaper during the Korean War when he was sent to a mountainous region of Okinawa, Japan, to cover a story.
He was planning to interview medics and their patients — native people who had never met Americans before — but he never got the chance because the two-seater observer plane in which he was a passenger crashed.
“If I didn’t fasten my seat belt, I wouldn’t be here,” Watson said, remembering the plane had come dangerously close to falling off a cliff into the China Sea.
He sustained a serious back injury in September 1954 and spent five months recuperating at Valley Forge Military Hospital.
The three younger lunch buddies all served during the 1960s, with Ciliberto completing a tour of duty in Vietnam, Latzo serving with the Army’s Postal Unit in Korea and Mazeroski serving in the U.S. Army Reserves.
After their service, the men’s career paths took diverse turns, from painting houses to helping manufacture picture tubes at the local RCA facility.
Nisky considered going to school on the G.I. Bill, but had been told there was a six- to eight-year waiting list. So he opted instead to work in the needletrade at the former Dory Clothing Co. “I sewed buttons on the fly (on pants),” he said. “They didn’t use zippers yet.”
The Wyoming Manor has a sewing machine available for residents’ use, Watson said, and “Just the other day (Nisky) spent some time adjusting a seam for a woman who lives here.”
Watson’s career, after he recovered from his back injury, was to continue writing. Locally, he joined the staff of the former Sunday Independent newspaper, including a column called “Making the Rounds with the Baron.”
“Some people still call me ‘the Baron,’” he said.
He still has plenty of stories to tell, too, whether he’s reminiscing about cleaning off tables during the decades-ago Christmas week he spent on military K.P. (kitchen patrol) duty or reflecting on a much more recent event.
Not too long ago, he said, he broke a belt buckle and, rather than do without, he borrowed a belt from one of his lunch buddies at Wyoming Manor.
“I’ve got a much bigger waist,” Watson said, laughing heartily. “But I wore that tight belt until my daughter could bring me a new one.”
“See how we help each other out,” he said. “We really are a band of brothers.”