Duty Is Beauty
Three wars, three men, three families, and three stories of ultimate sacrifice.
When my Grandma died, I was given a pillow she made as a memory. On the pillow, she had hand-stitched a phrase: “I woke and found life was duty.”
Intrigued by the line, I did some research and found it was from a poem by Ellen Sturgis Hooper entitled Beauty and Duty. It reads:
I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
Was thy dream then a shadowy lie?
Toil on, poor heart, unceasingly;
And thou shalt find thy dream to be
A truth and noonday light to thee.
It’s true. Life is both Duty and Beauty. And Duty is Beauty because it means serving others.
The following is a glimpse into the spirits of three men that gave their lives in their service of others.
These are the stories of young men — told through the eyes of a brother, a wife, and two daughters — who served in the United States military, and who made the ultimate sacrifice.
These stories are part of my ongoing project, You. Are. Beautiful.
I started the series in 2012 as a tribute to warriors, focusing on portraits of wounded veterans. You. Are. Beautiful. celebrates the human spirit and beauty in all people. Its main mission is to spread love and kindness.
Frank Anthony D’Amico, First Lieutenant, U.S. Army
Killed in action April 13, 1966, Hố Bò Woods, South Vietnam
“Frank, you are beautiful because of your unselfishness, your thoughtfulness, your kindness, and the love you gave me, our sisters Angela and Ida, Mom and Dad and to our entire family. You touched so many people in your too short life, and they are blessed to have known you. Even now, fifty-two years after you left us, I have been contacted, by people I never knew, to tell me wonderful stories about their experiences with you. Frank, my Beautiful Brother, you are thought of, LOVED, and missed every waking hour. Your Loving Brother, Tony”
Frank D’Amico grew up in Gloucester as the oldest of four siblings. He was the son of Joe D’Amico, a commercial fisherman, and Mary D’Amico, a stay-at-home mom. His younger brother Tony, who is now 73 and was 21 when Frank was killed, described him as the peacemaker of the family.
“He always put us ahead of himself,” he says. “If there was an argument, he always settled the argument. He instilled in us a sense of caring and giving and work ethic. If you’re going to do something, do the best possible job you can do, at any kind of work.”
Tony fondly remembers one childhood memory, the day Frank brought home a new car. It was a GTO. He tossed Tony the keys and said, “Here, it’s yours for the day.”
Frank was in the junior ROTC at Gloucester High School and in ROTC at Norwich University. After graduating, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. He was an Airborne Ranger with the 82nd Airborne and first deployed to the Dominican Republic in 1965, where a civil war raged. He he earned his Combat Infantry Badge and a Silver Star while deployed there. Tony said it was a difficult time because his family had no contact with Frank during his eight months there.
Tony shared stories of how Frank gave to others during and outside of his combat service, from helping other recruits not “wash out” at ranger training to going above and beyond to save people after a plane crash on a mountain during a training exercise.
When Frank returned from his first deployment, Tony went to visit him at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
“I’ve got great news. I’m going to Vietnam,” Frank said. Tony was confused because Frank was supposed to go to Fort Knox to take command of a battalion there. Despite his orders, Frank put in a request twice to deploy to Vietnam. “You know what this is going to do to Mom and Dad,” Tony said. Frank responded, “I’m a combat soldier. The government spent a lot of time training me, and I want to help those people in Vietnam.”
Tony said Frank’s main purpose was to help people. “He always thought of everyone else ahead of himself. I want people to realize how caring and how unselfish of a person he was.”
In Vietnam, Frank was the 3rd Platoon Leader of Bravo Company. At the age of 24, four days before his 25th birthday, he was killed in action in Hố Bò woods. His platoon was ambushed, and Frank was the first man hit and down. According to an account by a fellow soldier, “It is a profound testament to Frank’s leadership and his character that four of his men risked and lost their lives that day in an effort to assist their fallen leader.”
Frank was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions in Vietnam. Tony said he cannot watch documentaries about Vietnam without crying because he can envision his brother in combat.
Tony remembers the news of Frank’s death like it was yesterday. He emotionally recounts this memory. “I got done with duty and was stationed in South Carolina. I was in the Air Force. After duty, we would always go into town, and for some strange reason, I was down that day. I said I didn’t want to go into town. I wanted to stay in the barracks. I had a vision that God was talking to me, and he said, ‘I’m taking one of you.’ I said, ‘Please don’t let it be my brother. Please, God.’ And then I got a call from the Red Cross. That’s how I found out.”
I asked Tony what he would say to Frank if he could see him today for just a few moments. He said, “I would just hug him. I would hug him and not let go.”
James A. Ayube II, Sergeant, United States Army
Killed in action December 8, 2010, Balkh Province, Afghanistan
“James, you are beautiful because you believed in others when they could not believe in themselves.”
Lauren, 31, wrote this of her husband, James Ayube, who was killed in action in Afghanistan at the age of 25. Lauren was just 24 when he died.
James was born at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, outside Dayton, Ohio, while his father was stationed there, and his family moved to Salem in 1989. Lauren, who grew up in Gloucester, met James through his brother, Alex, while they all studied at Charlestown’s Bunker Hill Community College. In 2007, James graduated from college with a degree in Sociology before enlisting that summer.
James and Lauren were married in January 2008. James received orders to ship out to Germany shortly after they were married, but soon after, he was diverted to Iraq instead because there was an urgent need to fill a medic slot due to mass casualties.
Outside of Skype calls, Lauren did not see James for the first year of their marriage. She recalled one conversation that was abruptly cut short because James had to tend to the aftermath of a bombing that was coming into the aid station. A mother had martyred her young son as a suicide bomber during the funeral of an Iraqi police officer.
When James returned from Iraq, the couple spent fifteen months together while James was again stationed in Germany. It was there that Lauren got a tattoo across her chest, which was an anniversary gift from James. The Latin phrase si fractus fortis, a reference to her maiden name, Foster. It translates as Though Broken, Strong.
Little did she know this phrase would have even deeper personal meaning following her husband’s death.
“He was a really smart person,” Lauren said. “He had a really good sense of humor. He had a kind heart. He always wanted to join the military and had an ingrained sense of duty. He thought the country would be much better if everybody sacrificed of themselves and invested in the country. He thought a lot of problems could be fixed by investing in the community. He joined the military as a medic because he wanted to serve. He wanted to do it in a hands-on way.”
Lauren says his family members describe James as a champion of the underdog.
“James was good, attentive, and thoughtful,” she says. Lauren shared one specific story that meant a lot to her.
“Neither of us drove, so we didn’t have a car on base. James would walk or bike to and from work. Everyday after work he would go to the Shoppette and buy a snack. He would get me a Pepsi because it was something I would do years ago with my grandmother. I’d have that Pepsi in the afternoon and watch whatever was on TV with her. One day he came home, looked at me, turned around again and left without a word. He walked the mile-and-a-half again and came back twenty or so minutes later with my Pepsi.”
After their time in Germany, James deployed again, this time to Afghanistan.
She said the situation was even more “real” than Iraq. They often had to talk about “what if” scenarios. James covered necessary topics like life insurance but also conveyed his wishes for Lauren. He wanted her to accomplish two key things with her life. First, his wish was for her to have a home.
Second, he wanted her to complete her education and get a degree. She achieved both.
They would sometimes joke that there was no way James would die because he was too stubborn.
James was killed on December 8, 2010, when a suicide bomber attacked his unit on patrol.
What is the most important thing you want people to know about James, about who he was as a person?
“Just how good he was ... I had never met anyone like him before, ” said Lauren. “And I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone like him again. He didn’t have a lot of guile. He wasn’t a bullshitter. He would tell you what he was thinking. He was just ... he was just good.”
I asked Lauren what she would say to James if she had just a few moments with him today. She paused and through tears said, “I love you ... I would ask if he’s proud of me.”
Ralph John Greely, Corporal, United States Marine Corps
Killed in Action on May 12, 1945, at Sugar Loaf Hill, Okinawa, Japan
“Daddy, you are beautiful because you gave us life and sacrificed your life for family, God and Country.”
Judi (Greely) Bove, 78, and Eileen (Greely) Pereira, 74, said this of their father, Ralph Greely. Ralph was part of the 6th Marine Division in the United States Marine Corps and was killed in action at Sugar Loaf Hill in Okinawa, Japan, during WWII.
He was 26 years old at the time of his death. A significant battle during the war, Sugar Loaf Hill was the basis of James Hallas’ book Killing Ground on Okinawa: The Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill.
“The stories Hallas tells are ones of bravery and devotion to duty,” writes one reviewer. “When officers and noncommissioned officers fell, privates stepped up and assumed command. The killing ground leading up to Sugar Loaf was littered for days by the dead, and it was only after the battle that they could be recovered. The war ended shortly after Sugar Loaf and Okinawa were secured. For some of the survivors, it has never ended.”
Ralph Greely grew up in Gloucester. He went to a military high school in Virginia, and after attending some college, he worked in the family business at Greely Funeral Home with his father, although the sisters said he wanted to be a cartoonist.
Ralph’s mother died of pneumonia when he was just a child. Judi was only four years old when her father joined the marines. Eileen was in her mother’s womb when he deployed and only “met” her father as a toddler when his remains were sent back to Gloucester years after his death. They have an older third sister, Marily, who died during childbirth at the age of 30. Their mother remarried in 1948 and had six more kids.
The sisters share stories of their “Daddy” based on the many letters he wrote to their mother and vibrant stories shared by family members and members of the community. They described him affectionately as a “devil” — fitting for a man who went on to enlist in the marines to become a “Devil Dog.” This is a nickname for a US Marine based on the marines who fought with such ferocity during the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918 that they were likened to “dogs from hell.”
Based on the sisters’ description, Ralph was a very likable man who truly loved his family. Everyone knew who the Greelys were. Ralph belonged to the Elks, liked to have fun, play cards, and was spontaneous. He was the type of guy who would say to his wife, Elizabeth, “Hey, Mae. Let’s go to New York City for a cup of coffee.” Judi’s favorite memory of her father is dancing with him while standing on his feet.
I asked Judi to read one of the letters. She said she’d have to practice before we met because when she thinks about her father, the tears still fall. As an adult she has had feelings of numbness in her body when people mention her father. Judi said, “I think I never really grieved. And I’m grieving now.”
The letter she reads is the last one Ralph wrote to his wife. It is dated May 5, 1945, only 7 days prior to his death.
In reading the letters, it‘s apparent that Ralph was a romantic and had a good sense of humor. He began each letter to Mae with the greeting, “Hello Darling.” In one letter he writes, “Guess I’ve said pretty nearly everything there is to be said in my previous letters but here are more words, with more thoughts and dreams behind them than they in themselves could ever imply ... I really have something worth fighting for, namely you and our three lovely children ...”
He once sent an illustrated letter to Mae, where he sketched the things he missed most about home.
He writes, “theaters with roofs!; a car, I don’t care what make, year, or what it looks like, just as long as it runs and I can get plenty of gas!; the old job minus the derby and silk hat — never will go for the stove pipe!; indoor shower and tubs!; also (he sketches a sink and a toilet with a fuzzy cover) remind me never to subscribe to Sears Roebuck!” He ends the illustration with, “But most of all, I miss you!! The nicest person in the world, not to mention the most beautiful girl. Love, Ralph.”
If Judi had a few moments with him today, she would say, “Hi Daddy! I have wanted to call you that again for 74 years. Thank you for your sacrifice for our country and your family. I miss you so much. I just want to hug you again one more time.”
Ralph Greely’s remains are interred at Calvary Cemetery in Gloucester, but his site did not have a veteran marker for many years. According to a letter written by a family member to the sisters, Ralph’s father “did not believe that the remains of your father were really in the sealed casket and sent to Gloucester. Our grandfather went to his grave hoping that Ralph would one day walk out of the jungles of Okinawa.”
A veterans marker was placed on his grave in 2003. As children, perhaps Judi and Eileen did not want to believe Daddy was gone either. They used to sit in the back of St. Ann’s church and stare at the head of a man in the front row they thought was their father. They would wait and wait for him to turn his head and look at them, but he never did.