Longtime Dublin resident Lou Cleric died earlier this month at the age of 86. But, as is said, the story is not about how someone died; it's about how he lived.
And in the case of Mr. Cleric, whose birth name was Louis Clerico, the living included being a young World War II battlefield hero, a victim of prejudice and, equally as important, a great father and member of the community.
Cleric was born June 13, 1926, in New York. His parents, very poor and receiving welfare support, were both deaf and did not speak. By the age of 5, he had learned to use sign language and became the interpreter for the family.
One day, at age 10, his father interrupted Lou's neighborhood baseball game to ask if his son wanted to go with him. Not understanding the implications of what his father was saying, Cleric signed back 'no,' that he wanted to finish the game. It was only later that day when he learned that his father had actually just left his family for good.
His teen years were spent around numerous sports fields, including the boxing ring, where he was a New York Police Athletic League champion. Perhaps it was the toughness he gained in and out of the ring that helped him survive and excel as a soldier in the famous Battle of the Bulge.
A few years ago, to help his granddaughter with a school project, Cleric wrote down some of his memories of those tenuous, frightening times when as an 18 year-old, fresh from 16 weeks of basic training, he entered France's brutal battlefields. Here are just a few of his recollections.
"We rode all night in the box cars till we got to the action. The 75th Infantry Division had taken a horrendous beating. The Nazis had broken through the lines and were threatening the result of the war unless replacements could fill the void and rebuild the lines.
"The Germans were about to attack, and we had to set up a counterattack. Our captain offered a hot meal if someone would volunteer to go into a forward post and relay information, and I accepted.
"The Germans attacked that night. I reported that they were coming with tanks and infantry behind them. I ducked my head in the foxhole and didn't pick up my head until they were dead or surrendered. Had my hot meal and shook every day for a week.
"Three weeks later we were about to attack a German stronghold. I was riding on a tank along with some of my buddies in the fields of Alsace. The tanks tripped land mines and bombs exploded in the air and anyone under would be hit by shrapnel. Three of us were hit, killing two of us. I was hit in the leg. If I wasn't sitting on the tank with my rifle between my legs I would have also been hit in the throat."
Cleric, badly wounded, had to lay in a tank track rut for several hours in the freezing cold under fire from a sniper until U.S. soldiers could rescue him and get him medical treatment, which would include several months in a hospital and a very difficult rehabilitation.
When he returned to New York, Cleric became a printer's apprentice, a skill that he would use the rest of his life. It was also at this time that he faced a great deal of prejudice against Italian Americans and started omitting the "o" at the end of his name.
Fast-forward to 1955 when after his first marriage ended, which produced one child, he moved across country to the Bay Area and began working in an Oakland print shop. A few years later, he married his second wife, Donna, and had two additional children. They were married for 28 years until Donna passed away from cancer.
Six years later, Cleric attended a Christmas party for widows and widowers and met Lucy, who later became his third wife. They ended up settling in Dublin, where they spent 24 years together and became active in the community.
"Living in Dublin in their comfortable home represented an achievement of the American dream -- a result of hard work and determination," says Karen Wilmer, one of his daughters.
With full military honor, Lou was laid to rest a couple of weeks ago, leaving behind a family (including 13 grandchildren) who live by his example.
"Acceptance, loyalty, home and family. He instilled this in all of us. Family was above all else," says Wilmer.
Contact Alan Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.