Anco’s Fourth of July

Thank God for summer. Now that the 1954 school year was over and everything academic was left behind, that meant I was able to purge from my mind all that Okie dokie bullshit I had to learn and conform to for the past ten months. Pardon me, but I was an undesirable student. The few months ahead laid promise to good times. And one prominent event that would render such enjoyment was the Fourth of July. I knew the meaning of the holiday and I loved America, but the patriotic aspect of the day wasn’t foremost in my mind. I thanked Ben Franklin and George Washington as I did with Peter Rabbit and Santa Claus when I was young. But having no school, receiving free Hoodsies from the city, watching from the Slye Park the US Navy honor America with a 21 gun salute and shooting off our own arsenal of fireworks, then watching the Boston Common firework display from our rooftops was what truly made the day.

Of course weather conditions were an issue. Any precipitation meant disaster. That morning I tuned my radio to station WHDH to hear from Logan Airport the National Weather Service forecast weather conditions from Eastport to Block Island including Narragansett Bay. Once clement weather was predicted we were ready for takeoff. We took inventory of our fireworks cache. We counted the lady fingers, the one and two inches, cherry bombs and roman candles. Once tallied, we were off to Angelo’s grocery store to buy Diamond rand wooden matches @ 10 cents a box. We whacked up the expense between us. We then foraged for cardboard boxes, tin cans, etc., for anything we could explode into heaven or blast to smithereens. Our launch site was the Gas House, a.k.a. the Gassy. That expanse of concrete and granite was ideally suitable for Christmas bonfires and demolition work.

It wasn’t long after we started to blow everything up God created when we were interrupted by the arrival of Anco and his mangy, mean German Shepherd who I swear was half dog and half wolf. Everyone knew Anco. His name, his looks, his demeanor and family ties made him an outstanding character. He demanded that we all relocate to the third level playground with him. Once there, he revealed a grenade. I thought only the Army and John Wayne had hand grenades. Anyway, he suddenly pulls the pin and lobs it into the lower left field corner of the playground. Bah-Boom! Smoke and concrete dust billowed as we cheered with delight. What a treat! What a guy, our hero. Butchy Costa asked him for the pin, but was refused. Later I figured out why. It was evidence of that criminal event.

The pleasure of that memory suddenly collapsed one day years later while I was serving in the Army. After Boot Camp I was assigned to infantry school where weapon-training is in depth and extensive. Once course covered grenades, the various types and their uses. With each introduction I absorbed the information casually until the type Anco detonated became the subject, then I paid particular attention. I was stunned to hear that it was a fragmentation grenade having a ten second time delay fuse with an effective killing radius of 30 feet releasing up to 3,000 pieces of shrapnel, each with a velocity of 27,000 feet per second which is ten times faster than any bullet, meaning that a fragment the size of a pin head could enter/exit the human body with ease. How lethal I realized only then, what a devastating weapon that foolhardy tosspot exploded near us kids. Although we were probably 25 feet above ground-zero, nevertheless he exposed us kids to such extreme danger.

A year or two later I saw Anco and wanted to recall the incident with him but from a near distance he appeared to be inebriated. Evidently, through his life he was good at drinking but not thinking.

Let me close with the following factoid.
Between the years 1950-54 despite its diminutive size, the North End gave the world its biggest robbery since the beginning of mankind, Brinks, and produced a world champion boxer, Tony DeMarco, and a public Fourth of July human grenade launcher, Anco, (no last name given.)

Written by Sammy Viscione
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