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Semper Fi, Padre

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Mathew Caruso was a 19-year-old Marine sergeant assigned as a chaplain’s assistant at the outset of the Korean War. At home, Mathew’s wife, Elizabeth, was expecting their first child. During the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir, one of the fiercest battles in Marine Corps history, the chaplain, Father Cornelius Griffin, was in an ambulance administering the last rites to a fallen Marine. Suddenly the ambulance came under machine gun fire. Mathew threw the chaplain to the floor of the ambulance and shielded him with his body, saving Father Griffin at the cost of his own life. Six days later, Daniel Caruso was born.

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John Caruso joined the Marines after his brother Mathew was killed during the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir. He was still in the Marines five years later when he was called into the office of the chaplain whose life his brother saved. Mathew’s remains, which had been buried in a mass grave in North Korea, had been repatriated and Father Griffin had arranged for John to accompany his brother’s body from San Francisco to Hartford, Connecticut, three days by train, for burial. When people on the train asked John why he was wearing a black armband on his Class A uniform, he said he was a burial escort for a fallen Marine. And then a woman asked if he knew the Marine. For decades, it was John’s hope to one day write a book about his brother.

Oral historian Aaron Elson had heard the story of Mathew’s heroism from retired chaplain Connell Maguire, who heard the story in chaplain school in a class taught  by a colleague of Father Griffin. Elson and John Caruso met once a week at a Dunkin Donuts in Simsbury, Connecticut for two years to talk about the project. The result is “Semper Fi, Padre.”

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