A few days ago, I tried to piece together the places Babe went between basic training in Camp Wheeler, Ga., and departing for North Africa. I speculated that his last stop was Camp Shanks in New York, based on reports I’d seen indicating that camp was a popular port of departure for soldiers headed to Europe and North Africa.
I said it was a guess when I wrote it. But now I know I was wrong. Since posting that item, I’ve gotten new information. Babe went from Pennsylvania to the naval station at Newport News, Va., then on a seven-day voyage to Casablanca. Here’s how I learned that new tidbit.
In a few more letters, after he arrives in North Africa, Babe will tell his parents, “I met Joe Pasquale, Lugi Conte and Steve, who ran the garage across the street, on the boat coming over. I was never so surprised in my life as when I saw them.”
The Conte name was familiar to me. As a kid, we’d always visit Conte’s Fish Market in Mount Kisco for clams on the half shell. I didn’t know anyone in the family personally, but my uncles Bob and Vince (Babe’s brothers), my grandmother Florence and my mother knew them.
So I emailed Rob Conte at Conte’s Fish Market. That led me to Pia and Luca Edward Conte, siblings whose father, Luca George Conte, was on board the boat with Babe. Luca George went by the nickname “Lugi,” according to his daughter Pia.
The son, Luca Edward, now of Louisville, Ky., also sent a summary of his father’s service that noted some key facts: He also left the United States on July 14, 1943, and arrived in North Africa on July 21, 1943, just like Babe, corroborating Babe’s comment that he met Lugi “on the boat coming over.” Based on Lugi’s recollection, in the document his son sent me, they left from Newport News, Va., and arrived in Casablanca.
I love how these pieces fall into place as you triangulate new information. And I’m grateful for the response from Pia and Luca Conte. I’ll be eager to share more information on their father in later posts.