On April 29, a Friday morning, five M14 rifles pointed toward a beautiful Cape Cod sky. Three volleys interrupted the silence before a solo Army bugler kicked off taps on the healthy green lawn of the Massachusetts National Cemetery. The service was in honor of Private First Class Nicholas Pina, who had finally made it home.
He was the last of six brothers from Marion, MA, who served in World War II and were buried here. These six boys were sons of a Cape Verdean immigrant who owned a cranberry bog and a farm and were given the option to serve with black or white soldiers.
Private Pina opted to serve in a “colored” unit because that was where other Cape Verdeans were serving, according to his surviving family. However, in these times, a segregated army seems a far off memory. Therefore, Pina’s ashes were buried among those of whites, Hispanics, blacks and other veterans who valiantly served their country just as Pina had done. Pina was eventually assigned to a combat engineer unit.
His 56-year-old son, Richard Pina of Washington, expressed his satisfaction. He truly could not ask for anything more to honor his veteran father. “I feel that my father is no longer lost and is with his family.”
Nicholas Pina passed away at 91 years old in Arizona. As a combat engineer, he served in the Battle of the Bulge, survived strafing by German planes and served in Okinawa in the Pacific.
Despite all of his experiences, Pina never spoke of his time in war until a year before he died. His oldest son Nicholas Jr. of Falmouth is 67 years old and a retired field engineer for W. R. Grace. He explained, “In their culture, they didn’t complain. They didn’t say anything.” However, Private Pina managed to keep a highly detailed diary while traveling across France, Luxembourg and Belgium, and into Germany.
The entries include:
■ ”Received my first ‘Baptism of Fire’ on January 25, 1945, while we were out at an outpost during the ‘Bulge’ for 48 hours.”
■ ”Feb. 16, 1945. Worked 24 hours a day for 7 days on a 5-mile road which was blown by crater charges.”
■ ”March 8, 1945. Saw first buzz bomb, had a flame spitting from its rear end. It travels low but with tremendous speed.”
While in Germany: “April 3, 1945. Saw brother Domingo.”
Five of the six brothers enlisted in the Army in Europe. The sixth one served in the Navy based out of the West Coast, and remained in the United States during the war. In the midst of all the chaos of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers, Nicholas found Domingo in Germany chasing after the enemy.
Initially, Nicholas only saw a shadow that reminded him of his brother. The younger Nicholas recalled, “He didn’t recognize him. He found this guy who he thought looked familiar.” Domingo had lost a bit of weight as a result of an accident he was in. The brothers did briefly connect, though, and Nicholas’s wartime path even intersected with another brother, August. All six brothers came out of the war without sustaining any major injuries.
After Germany surrendered in May 1945, Nicholas headed west across the Atlantic Ocean on a troop transport. He figured the ship was headed for New York, but it became apparent that was not the case. The transport entered the Panama Canal and continued across the Pacific. The young private then found himself on Okinawa, not even two weeks after Japan officially surrendered.
His diary from Okinawa included the following note:
“On November 11, 1945, I was on top of ‘Suicide Hill.’ On this hill, the Japs killed themselves by jumping off of it. It’s about 300 ft. drop.”
Pina headed back to Marion once the war ended and married Flora, one of the nurses who worked at Camp Edwards near the cemetery where his ashes are now interred. His wife died over a year ago and their urns and ashes were situated next to one another behind a folded American flag during the service.
His children said this gesture was just like their father. He remained devoted to his family, even when he relocated to Arizona for 30 years.
Once Flora died things changed for Nicholas. The wartime memories he worked so hard to suppress suddenly worked their way to the surface. The younger Nicholas described their recent father and son conversations as discussing things that he had really needed to get off his chest.
The talks started off discussing places in France they had visited separately during both war and times of peace. The younger man became aware that his dad kept records of names and addresses of his fellow comrades in arms. These comrades meant quite a bit to him.
The veteran had a family of two boys, two girls, and three nieces who he adopted after the death of one of his brothers. For 33 years he worked in shipping at Goodyear Tire in New Bedford, MA.
His oldest son said that Nicholas had always intended to be buried near his brothers in the National Cemetery at Bourne, in Massachusetts. Nicholas Jr. was handed a folded flag and three spent shell casings from the volleys. He had the support of his extended family who sat close by.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs sent Barbara Cellucci to address the family, including Pina’s daughter Gail. Cellucci said, “We’re closing the circle, with the final Pina brother, in a long line of patriotism.” At the conclusion of the ritual, everyone wiped their tears away. The entire family left the cemetery to gather together in Marion. It was time to reminisce about a man who barely spoke of his military service, and to find comfort in the company of one another. With love and honor, the last of the Pina brothers was buried.