George Custodi was born in the midst of war in 1942. His parents, both Italian, were living in Trani, in the south of Italy. Shortly thereafter, his father was deployed to Greece in the early part of 1943 to serve with the Italian army corps of railroad engineers. At that time George was only a few months old. His father was an army engineer; his mother, a young, barely 18-year-old girl.
Three years passed before George had any more contact with his father who was believed by the family to have been a casualty of war. What they did not realize was that his father had been imprisoned by the Germans for much of that time; spending the remaining months of the war struggling to cross a devastated country to get back to them.
By the time his parents met again, George’s mother had remarried. After a complicated legal separation, it was decided that George should remain in Italy with his father, while his mother could emigrate to America with her new husband. In postwar Italy, George got to know his extended Italian family, speaking the language, living the customs, and eventually getting to know his father a little better.
Then, in the mid-1950s, after a second agreement, George traveled to America to live permanently with his mother and her new family. He kept in touch with his father over the years, worked to maintain his Italian language, and followed in his father’s professional footsteps by becoming an engineer himself, graduating from Iowa State University in 1964, with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, and a commission in the U.S. Navy. After six years on active duty at sea with the U.S. and Royal Navies, he transferred to the Naval Reserve, retiring as a Captain. But not before enrolling at Texas A&M University where he earned a Master’s in Chemical Oceanography in 1971. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that George discovered the lost life his father had experienced in their separation during the war. Finding diaries in a family heirloom desk, George uncovered the faded, fatigued words his father had left behind some sixty years earlier. Translating those words, along with the diaries of two more of his father’s contemporaries, filled the next near-decade for George Custodi.
During that time, George and his wife of more than 40 years, Sandi, traveled extensively to and from Italy in completion of this task of love and remembrance.
While battling cancer, the project helped sustain him. It encouraged a reawakening of his pride of heritage. And, in the process, George uncovered a side of his father he had never known.
Many others have taken an active interest and participated in the development of this project along the way. But it is the commitment and dedication of a loving son that brought it to completion.