A Salute to 'Old School' Fatherhood

Mr. Mazarriello reached beyond the stereotypical portrayals of American fatherhood and seized an opportunity for his sons to teach themselves about something more important than sports or toys.
06/15/2012 06:03pm ET | Updated August 15, 2012
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The Pew Research Center recently caused concern when they released a survey on parenting showing the nation evenly split on whether modern fathers play a greater or lesser role in their children's upbringing. It also reported the share of men residing with their children has alarmingly fallen in the past 50 years yet a solid 87 percent of men between ages 15 and 44 surveyed say they want to be fathers. A surprising result considering how fatherhood is incessantly portrayed in modern American culture, but art doesn't always imitate life.

This past March an attorney and his two sons walked into a Newburgh, N.Y., antique store hoping to find a collectable Hasbro G.I. Joe. It was unsuccessful for eight-year-old Mario and 10-year-old Michael Mazzariello II. But the boys noticed a collection of Purple Hearts in a display case and asked to see them. One of the medals had Charles J. George inscribed on its back and was part of a set that also included a Bronze Star.

Store owner Erik Berean explained he purchased them from an estate sale. They were fascinated with the medals and said it would be good to find the recipient and return them to him. Berean agreed and offered the medals to the brothers on the condition they reported to him what they discovered or they had to return them. Their dad saw a great learning experience and agreed to the arrangement if the boys did it themselves.

They started with a telephone call to a nearby museum, but the young voices were quickly dismissed by a busy staff who said they couldn't assist. Dad backed them up, but received the same answer. It was a poor start, but he did what old school fathers do when their child gets knocked off a horse. He put them back on it and wouldn't let them quit.

Mario and Michael cycled through every soldier named Charles George they could find on the Internet searching for the elusive middle initial "J." They finally happened onto an eight-minute YouTube video of a ceremony commemorating a Korean War veteran with the name.

It was a long shot, but the Mazzariello boys sent an email to the YouTube poster asking if he could provide any more information on that particular Charles George. The boys got a reply and a contact number for Warren Dupree at the Steve Youngdeer Chapter of the American Legion in Cherokee, NC.

Father and sons made the long distance call. Over the course of a few conversations between Dupree, the George family and the evidence available, the Mazzariellos and tribal representatives became convinced the medals found in that antique shop belonged to PFC Charles George -- the only Medal of Honor recipient of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian.

When George enlisted, he was like most Cherokee of the day and only had a first name and a surname. To fill out the Army forms, he required a middle name and it's believed wrote his father's on the blank space. PFC Charles George was later killed in Korea in November 1952 during a mission to capture an enemy soldier and awarded the nation's highest honor for his actions under fire.

His father Jacob George and a tribal representative traveled to New York City to receive his son's Medal of Honor and the other decorations awarded from Secretary of the Army Robert Stevens. It was a confusing time for the bereaved father from Cherokee. Amidst the grief and the ceremonies in a big city like New York, the Bronze Star and Purple Heart were accidentally left behind in their hotel room and never seen again.

The Charles George exhibit at The Museum of the Cherokee Indian only possesses his Medal of Honor and two Korean War service ribbons. The other service medals he should have received after a year of heavy combat with the U.S. Army's 45th "Thunderbird' Division are absent from it and now believed resting in the hands of the Mazzariello family.

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee, the national chapters of the American Legion, The Veterans of Foreign Wars, and both legislatures in North Carolina and New York have undertaken the task to assist in securing the final piece of documentation that confirms the medals belong to George. The new help hasn't stopped the Mazzariello boys work on the project. They've written a letter to President Obama requesting his assistance.

This November the Cherokee will commemorate the 60th anniversary of PFC Charles George's ultimate sacrifice in defense of this nation. Mario and Michael Mazzariello's journey is expected to end at that ceremony when they repatriate those two lost pieces of U.S. history to its rightful heirs.

Mario and Michael deserve every credit received for their tremendous efforts, but Mr. Mazzariello is to be commended as well. It shouldn't take Father's Day to remind people how vital the man behind the curtain is to a family. Mr. Mazarriello reached beyond the stereotypical portrayals of American fatherhood and seized an opportunity for his sons to teach themselves about something more important than sports or toys. It's an example of the impact a father can have on his children's life and a story that should be remembered for Father's Days to come.