(Note: The following is an excerpt from the draft manuscript of book no. 6 in the Legacy of Iron series. It's set in 1944. I don't usually share sections from an unpublished manuscript, but on this Memorial Day, it seemed to be the thing to do.)
Tony Terlazzo sat at his desk in the Strength and Health building, his eyes closed, his mind a whirl of half-forgotten memories. Memories of a former teammate, friend and fellow lifter.
Anthony Fiorito had been a member of the York Barbell Club and lifted for the York team in the 1930’s. The younger brother of five-time Senior National champion Joe Forito, Anthony had been one of the top lifters in the Middle Atlantic District. Although he never won a District championship, he set many records in the one-hand lifts, including a one-hand clean and jerk with a 165-pound barbell. That was pretty good lifting for a 123-pound lifter.
Tony Terlazzo had been there on that day in August, 1935. He still remembered the lift.
Anthony Fiorito had moved from weightlifting to hand-balancing, and he quickly became one of the best in the country. He teamed up with another Norristown balancer named Louis D’Antonio, and they developed an outstanding two-man balancing act. They were good enough to turn professional and adopted the stage-name of “The Bartons.”
Tony smiled. Harry Paschall’s middle name was Barton, and Harry once said he was going to copyright the name before anyone else could borrow it for stage use. That was typical Harry. But Harry had seen that one-hand clean and jerk with 165 pounds, and there was nothing Harry liked better than a fellow lifter. If the Bartons had borrowed his middle name, he never begrudged it.
The Bartons appeared at many shows and exhibitions in York. Whenever there was a big event, such as Bob Hoffman’s Annual Birthday Party and Lifting Show, the Bartons were there. And that made Anthony Fiorito a regular part of the lifting scene for many years.
When the War descended upon them, Anthony was one of the first to enlist. And he didn’t just join the service. He volunteered for one of the toughest and most dangerous assignments of them all: the Paratroopers. He proved to be an excellent soldier, strong, smart and hard working, and he was quickly promoted to sergeant, and assigned to the position of Jumpmaster. As Jumpmaster, he was responsible for teaching the men how to parachute. He was literally the “man in charge” on training flights.
On a gray day in late 1943, Anthony Fiorito served as Jumpmaster on a training plane that carried 24 paratroopers for their practice jumps. It should have been a routine flight – but something terrible happened. As the plane leveled off for the long glide immediately preceding the jump, it suddenly went into a spin, turning over and over as it shot to the ground.
Sgt. Fiorito heaved open the door of the plane. There was no time to wait. They were at an extremely low altitude, not far above the trees below. He could have jumped to safety, shouting to the others to follow him, and hoping they’d be able to do so.
But he didn’t do that.
He stayed on board the doomed plane, and began pushing the men out the door one by one before they even knew what was happening.
Instead of jumping to safety, he chose to save as many men as possible.
He pushed four men to safety before the crash.
Sgt. Fiorella and 19 other men died that day – and the lifting world lost yet another hero.
And now it fell to Tony Terlazzo to tell the story in his monthly column in Strength and Health, “Barbell Men in the Service.” A World and Olympic champion, Tony Terlazzo was the best lifter, pound for pound, in the entire world. But sometimes, the simple acting of putting words on paper took every ounce of his legendary strength. This was one of those times.
When he finished, Tony pulled the paper out of his typewriter, set it on top of a large pile of typed pages waiting to go to the printer, and closed his eyes. He remembered one of the many times he’d practiced hand-balancing with Anthony Fiorito. Anthony had tried to teach him a particularly difficult maneuver, and Tony had fallen again and again until he was stiff and sore and bruised from head to toe.
Meanwhile, Anthony Fiorito had done the same stunt over and over – effortlessly.
“How do you do it?” Tony asked him.
“I’m not afraid of falling,” said Anthony.
Tony stood up, pushed back his chair and walked to the window. He looked out into the night. When had it gotten so dark – and so late? How long had he been working? It was hours past dinnertime.
Once again, he heard his friend’s words.
“I’m not afraid of falling,” said Anthony.
Tony nodded. He understood. He knew why Anthony had chosen to stay on the doomed plane rather than jump to safety when he had the chance.
After a minute of silence he wiped the tears away, put on his coat, picked up his hat, turned out the light and walked down the dark hall.
Copyright 2013 by Brooks D. Kubik and Brooks Kubik Enterprises, Inc.