IT took him 65 years to set foot again on the island of Saipan.
Sylmar, California-resident John Fusano — whose family once had a canning of olive and olive oil business in the San Fernando Valley, the Cristo Fusano and Sons olive canning factory and oil mill — was overjoyed at having his wish come true.
In an interview with John at the lobby of Hyatt Regency Saipan, he told this reporter he had long wanted to come to the island. When he lost his wife in 2011, he said he made the decision to come and invited his son David to come along.
He also said he was glad that his nephew, Cliff Smith, had been on island for over three years as a resident engineer of the International Broadcasting Bureau’s transmitting station at Agingan Point, was there to guide them around.
As to serving the country, John said of the four brothers in the family, three of them served. He said they all left one after the other and all of them survived the war.
John said, “I was the last one in and of course the last one out.”
Fusano said he was 19 year old when he went to Camp Roberts. He briefly came home for Christmas in 1944, then left for more trainings in Northern California, Seattle, then Hawaii. Soon he found himself on Saipan.
“I came here, stopped here for a week or two, then went to the Carolines. We were anchored there for a few days then headed for Okinawa,” he said.
John said he had never heard of Saipan before coming here the first time. Over the course of his trainings, he had learned about the battles that took place in the area. “I am just amazed at what had been done to this island since,” said a smiling John.
“I had no choice but to start throwing hand grenades,” John said, adding that he was wounded in the calf and behind his neck.
He said they were fortunate that just as the enemies were inching closer to where they were, another group of American Marines came just in time.
John, who was wounded, was taken to a field hospital.
“The only thing I remember the next morning I woke up I got a hot cup of soup which was delicious,” he said.
While waiting in the harbor, Fusano said they could hear the whirring sound of Japanese kamikaze planes hovering.
From the field hospital the men were loaded on to the Navy’s Attack Personnel Transport or APA ship.
“You could do nothing but lay in your bed. I remember getting back to this island and that [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had died,” said Fusano adding that he had no recollection of how he got to the general hospital on Saipan from the dock.
Fusano could not remember the name of the hospital but sources point to the 148th General Hospital on Mt. Tapochau.
According to “The Life of the Clinician: The Autobiography of Michael Lepore,” Lepore said the 148th General Hospital on Saipan was one of the best hospitals whose staffers were of high caliber and it was well run.
Fusano said it had taken him close to two months to recuperate.
When the 148th General Hospital closed down, he said he was taken to Guam. “They sent me to Guam at the beginning of 1946 — for a month or three weeks.”
In the short time that he was on Saipan before deploying to Okinawa, John said he was assigned to carpentry, then ordnance.
He still remembered that there were a carpenter shop and 17 warehouses during his time there; however, he initially could not seem to figure it out where they were 65 years later.
His nephew later confirmed that they were able to find the spot: at the present location of Fiesta Resort & Spa hotel.
John said he enjoyed the view of the harbor and the reef from the top of the hill. “I realized the beauty of the island after I was wounded. From the top of the hill where the hospital was, the beautiful reef, the bay, unbelievable!”
From their perch on the hill he said they watched B29’s take off from Tinian and from Saipan.
John said he came home to very proud parents in 1946 during an emergency furlough.
It was during this time that he met his wife, Anita, who’s a close friend of his sisters. A year after they met, they got married. Their marriage of 64 years was blessed with eight children.
Family and values
He came from a big, industrious Italian family who built a thriving olive canning business in the Sylmar Valley.
Fusano said the Fusano patriarch, who was originally from southern Italy, came to America in 1909 and went to work for railroads for 50 cents a day. Displeasure with his job led him to investing his hard-earned savings in an olive oil business.
From his parents, Cristo and Rose, he and his siblings learned hard work and love of country.
On war and military service
“War is hell. No matter which side you are on, I don’t think anybody wants to kill other people. If they do, they are crazy,” he said.
Asked how it felt to have served, with tears welling up, Fusano said, “Proud. I am proud. Unfortunately, we are still fighting. It bothers me. It bothers me because it’s not accomplishing what we tried to accomplish — that we don’t finish the job when we go.”
For those planning to serve, he advised, “If you don’t want to do it, don’t get in there. But if you want to get in there, do a good job!”
The volunteerism they showed then he expects from the young generation. “You owe it to your country to serve.”