During World War II, Dad – Simone “Sam” Billuni – was awarded two Purple Heart medals. The first came during the battle on the beaches at Anzio, Italy in 1944. A fierce German counterattack left Sam unconscious from a machine-gun bullet wound to the hip. Left for dead and eventually imprisoned by the Germans as a POW, he wound up in Stalag IIB in Germany, where he was wounded a second time during an air raid. After spending fourteen months as a POW he was repatriated, met Mom on the MS Gripsholm, and spent some recuperative time in Halloran General Hospital where the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster was pinned to his tunic. Dad was in uniform, complete with Purple Heart decoration, when he and Mom got married in June 1945.
When Dad passed away from leukemia in 1988, Mom entrusted the Purple Heart medal to me for safekeeping. When I think about “things” that I own, it stands out as my most prized possession.
When my oldest son, Kyle, married Amanda in 1996 I thought it would be a fitting tribute if Kyle were to wear Dad’s Purple Heart during the wedding ceremony.
When Dad’s grandson and my nephew, Ryan Gilbert, married Chantel in 2010, we decided to repeat that tribute, and Ryan wore Dad’s Purple Heart.
My baby sister, Kim, married Michael Clancy in 2012, and I made sure she carried the Purple Heart in her bouquet.
Well, it’s a Billuni Nation tradition by now, and a week from Saturday, on August 18, Jennifer Gilbert (Dad’s granddaughter, Kim’s daughter, my niece, Kyle’s cousin, and Ryan’s sister), will marry Tom Wilson. Once again, Sam Billuni’s Purple Heart will be in attendance.