Thank you for your service, Cpl. Pavese, his amazing memory
America’s Greatest Generation
Fort Myers resident Frank Pavese couldn’t have known on the afternoon of Dec. 7, 1941, that three years later he would be a U.S. Army corporal stationed in Italy facing down what seemed like the entire German army. The 17-year-old Fort Myers High student sure as heck couldn’t have predicted that one day a German colonel would want to surrender to Americans. Just not to lowly Cpl. Pavese. But first came Dec. 7. “… I was watering my lawn and Muscles McNabb― he didn’t weigh 100 pounds soaking wet,” says Pavese, the 93-year-old founder of a Fort Myers law firm. “I was watering the lawn on 1118 South Jackson Street and Muscles came over. ‘Did you hear the news?’ I said what news? He said, ‘Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.’”
Everything changed that day for Pavese, the day that propelled America into World War II. A year later he enlisted in the Army; found himself after training on a Liberty ship with about 2,000 other soldiers bound for North Africa. His boat was part of a six-ship convoy escorted across the Atlantic, destroyers on either side. Pavese knew German U-boats were lurking, eager to sink American troopships. He recalled it took 12 days to cross the ocean. They reached Oran, Algeria, where he was stationed for two months, training intensively and preparing for battle.
Moving north, Cpl. Pavese’s job in Italy was keeping his company supplied with food. Every day he and a truck driv er would go to a nearby “food dump” and return with meals that kept the Army going. And then one memorable trip he and the driver encountered Germans. Lots of them. Pavese and the driver, a private named Kowalski, would hit an S curve above a valley. “I said, ‘This doesn’t look good, Kowalski,’” Pavese says, recalling the moment. “We went around the corner and there was the whole German army.”
Of course it wasn’t the entire army. But there were many Germans around that corner and it looked like an entire army to Pavese. “Kowalski said, ‘What are you going to do, corporal?’” Pavese recalls, adding that he replied, “We’re going to park this vehicle and stand out in front of it and hope they don’t kill us.”
Pavese recalls a sort of tank-like device with “a big rifle on it” approaching. There was also a command car. “And this colonel, spick and span … riding trousers and shiny boots and one of those swagger sticks,” Pavese says. “And he had a hat on. One of those German hats, and he had a pistol on his side. And he got out of the command car and came up to me and said, ‘Are you Americans?’ And I said we’re Americans. He said he wanted to surrender.”
Just 18 years old, Cpl. Pavese understandably was nervous. “If I had a tie on, it would have been going up and down,” Pavese says, gesturing his hands up and down off his chest, indicating how fast his heart was beating.
The colonel told Pavese they didn’t want to surrender to the Italian guerrilla force, which he believed would have likely killed all under his command. The colonel asked about Pavese’s rank. “He said, ‘I can’t surrender to you,’” Pavese remembers.
Pavese told the German about an American colonel back at his base. Then, Pavese says, Kowalski asked the German colonel for his sidearm. The colonel said no. “I told Kowalski, get your a— back in that truck,” Pavese remembers saying.
Then the German colonel and the American corporal went their separate ways. The German went to surrender to an American colonel, and Pavese continued his morning mission of picking up food. “I was running late and had to get food for over 100 soldiers,” Pavese says.
Pavese would return to Fort Myers to become a prominent attorney, founding the Pavese Law Firm in 1949, which is still in operation.
Not many people likely know about his war service. Now, more than 70 years later, Pavese is proud of his service and describes himself as “very patriotic.”
World War II wasn’t fun, by any means. “A bad ordeal,” Pavese says. “Glad I went.”
So is America.
At left is Frank Pavese, a World War II Army veteran and founder of Pavese Law Firm in Fort Myers. He's pictured with the late F ort Myers attorney James A. Franklin Jr., who died in October 2015 at age 91. Franklin had enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and served as acting chief quartermaster on a destroyer escort in the Pacific.
Frank Pavese (left) in younger days, relaxing in the woods with two friends.