Oldest Hurlock American Legion recruit is 87

Submitted to the Dorchester Banner/Claudia Bates
Hurlock American Legion Post 243’s Sergeant-At-Arms and Chaplain, John “Jack” Lewis, right, welcomes 87-year-old recruit Giovanni Bernardis to the squadron’s Sons of the American Legion.

HURLOCK — In 1932 the American Legion formed the Sons of the American Legion (SAL) to teach the children of veterans the principles of “justice, freedom and democracy” and to help prepare the youth for success. Little did the founders think that in 2019 an 87-year-old recruit would be inducted into the organization. But Giovanni Bernardis, a native of Italy, joined the Hurlock Post 243 SAL in 2019 as the stepson of an American veteran.

Giovanni’s winding path led him to the Woods Edge home of his daughter Claudia and her husband Matthew Fahey after living his youth in war torn Italy. His father died early in World War II and young Giovanni’s life was turned upside down.

Enter the American Army’s 1st Lt. Jacob (Jake) Schiffman, stationed in the 6th General Hospital as a supply officer, who met young Giovanni’s mother in Rome. He says, “After the war, my mom put me on a train to go north. Four years later, in 1945, she showed up with Jake who returned to America and came back to Italy in the 50s.”

The soldier went to work for the American embassy in Rome, married Giovanni’s mother in Vienna, and the couple returned to the United States. By then Giovanni was an adult who wanted to move to the states. A senator from North Dakota, a friend of Jake’s, paved the way. They lived in several places until Giovanni planted his feet in the mud of the Eastern Shore.

Jake died at the age of 98 and was buried in Arlington Virginia Veterans’ Cemetery. He was, says Giovanni, “a wonderful man.”

Because of Jake’s military service Giovanni was eligible for the SAL. The average age of SAL members is in the 50s. And while some may be in their 80s, it’s a safe bet that recruiting an 87-year-old is rather unique.

That honor belongs to Hurlock resident and Post 243’s Sergeant-at-Arms and Chaplain, John “Jack” Lewis. While visiting the Faheys he noticed a photograph on the mantel of a man in an Army uniform.

He learned it was Jake Schiffman, Giovanni’s stepfather, who was an Army veteran. Jack says, “He’s qualified to become a member of our legion family. It just mushroomed from there. I’m so proud of this gentleman for coming aboard. I really got perked up about it to be honest.”

Jack asked Giovanni if he would like to join the Hurlock squadron as the stepson of a veteran. And, at the Feb. 12 monthly membership meeting, the Italian-born American was sworn in as a Son of the American Legion.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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