Act of war personal for veteran

WARREN – On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan perpetrated an unprecedented act of war on the United States, dropping waves of artillery shells from the sky on unsuspecting servicemen at a naval base off the coast of Pearl Harbor.

The attack was seen as so egregious, a nation whose politicians and citizenry had spent years internally debating whether to enter World War II instantaneously knew the answer.

Across the country, people were seething with anger and looking for a chance at revenge.

In Warren, Eugene V. Nolfi Sr. embodied the rage felt by millions, although he was just a 13-year-old junior high student at the time.

For Nolfi, the act of war was personal. Among the 2,402 Americans killed that day was a close family member.

“My first cousin was killed at Pearl Harbor,” the now 85-year-old Nolfi said from his Beal Street home. “I felt that I had to get even.”

As Nolfi prepared for graduation from Warren G. Harding High School in 1946, Japan had surrendered and the fighting portion of the war was essentially over.

Still, when Nolfi, then a 17-year-old high school graduate, convinced his parents to allow him to sign enlistment papers into the U.S. Army, that anger was still boiling just below the surface.

“I don’t know if you want to hear this from me, but I have to tell you the truth about it,” Nolfi said. “My thing was to go overseas and kill at least one Jap. That was the way I felt.”

Several months later, Nolfi found himself on a troop carrier just 100 miles off the coast of Yokohama, Japan.

However, as the USS Admiral W. S. Sims approached the shoreline, Nolfi didn’t see the blood-thirsty, anti-American hoards often portrayed in newsreels during the war.

Those Japanese citizens lined up waiting to greet the troops weren’t holding bayonets, ready to fight to the last man.

They were on their knees, begging for food.

“That’s when I changed my mind,” Nolfi said. “They were begging for anything you could give them. If you had candy and gave them something, they’d fight each other to get to it.”

Seeing the reality of a country of people ripped apart by bombs, bullets, death and starvation changed his outlook almost immediately.

“My reaction was, ‘Wow, they’re in bad shape.’ So, I never thought again about trying to get even,” Nolfi said.

As the 18-year-old private stood in line awaiting instructions for his unit, he heard someone shouting his name.

It was a captain with an offer that would shape the Warren native’s 13 months overseas.

“He asked me if I’d like to take a test to see if I qualified to be transferred to the Signal Corps,” Nolfi said. “I was shaking in my boots, because a private being called out of line by a captain was a big deal, but he said my records told them I had taken radio and electricity courses in high school.”

Nolfi jumped at the opportunity, partly because of a rumor that his unit was to be moved to tents on the north side of Tokyo.

“Between that and the Signal Corps, living in an eight story building? Why not?” Nolfi said.

When he saw the 20 question test, Nolfi’s eyes lit up.

“I didn’t tell them, but it was the same exact test I took just two months before I graduated high school,” Nolfi said. “I knew all the answers. I got all 20 right.

“The captain said, ‘we want him,'” he laughed.

Nolfi spent the remainder of his tour in downtown Tokyo, eventually earning the status of technician 4th-grade.

He had made such an impression upon military brass, he was in charge of an eight-man crew of trained electricians and his office was just a few floors above Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters in the famous Dai-Ichi building in downtown Tokyo.

Nolfi’s duties in the 71st Signal Service Battalion included re-wiring entire buildings with communication devices like dictographs to be used by captains, colonels, majors and even McArthur himself.

“The lieutenant in charge of me and the crew came to me and said Gen. McArthur wants a push button on his desk so he can call a captain instead of having to shout to him,” Nolfi said. “I got the job because no one else wanted to go. They were afraid they would mess something up.”

Nolfi spent the day wiring a buzzer under the general’s desk.

“I had three MPs watching every move I made while I was in there,” Nolfi laughed. “I’ll never forget it. His desk was round with corncob pipes all around it. There was nothing else in the room and the carpet was three inches thick.”

Happy with his work, when Nolfi’s tour was up in 1947, he was asked to continue in the corps with an additional stripe.

“Rumors were starting to come out that the Korean War was coming,” Nolfi said. “I thought to myself, ‘I think I’ll go back to Warren, Ohio.’ I didn’t re-enlist.”

In November of 1947, Nolfi returned to Warren where he would later marry and have four children.

He looks back on his time in the Signal Corps fondly.

“I loved the work,” Nolfi said. “Also, the guys who had been over there fighting for years always said they were glad we enlisted, because the more new guys they sent over there, the more guys get to go back home.

“They were happy to see us,” he said.

Nolfi retired from Copperweld Steel Co. in 1987 after 30 years on the job. He has lived in the home he built himself in 1956 on Beal Street.