My father had the world’s most bizarre middle name.
If you think yours can top it, think again. If your middle name is Phinneas or Clothilde, you still don’t get the blue ribbon. Even if your middle name is Adelgunde, step aside.
My dad’s middle name was . . .
Wait for it . . .
Hand to God.
As the story goes, my father grew up believing that he did not have a middle name. No one told him otherwise, and because Italians really didn’t hand out middle names the way other cultures did, he was simply Gerald Bocciardi.
At some point, though, someone decided that he should adopt Raymond as his middle name. His paternal grandfather’s name was Raimondo, so that made as much sense as anything.
So he’d been going along in life as Gerald R. Bocciardi until the day he went to the Oakland Hall of Records to obtain his official birth certificate.
My father had been in the army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at UC Berkeley when he was an undergraduate. ROTC was a program that trained young college students to be commissioned officers in the armed services. When he got his draft notice in August of 1952, in the middle of the Korean War, Dad drove from San Leandro with my mother – his new wife of three months – directly to the Presidio in San Francisco to activate his commission so that he could go into the army as an officer rather than as a grunt private. After a full day of being sent from building and building, signing and transporting paperwork, he was given an official letter to present to the Oakland draft board declaring that he was a commissioned officer.
Now, my dad was a patriotic man and he wanted to fulfill his duty to his country, but Gerald Bocciardi’s boots on the ground would not have served America well. He was a smart guy, but he was also completely inept at practical matters. The man just could not master the most basic of everyday tasks. Boot camp would have kicked him to the curb.
When he got to Camp Cooke – a former army base near Lompoc, California – he was assigned to, of all things, “heavy mortar.” That obviously was not going to be a permanent spot for him. Later, at Fort Lewis in Washington, he was asked to oversee “reconnaissance patrols.” As my mother told me later, those were “the guys who go out in the middle of the night, and they have to read the maps in some foreign, strange jungle. He couldn’t find his way around San Leandro!”
That was a bust, too. It was then that my dad, who was nothing if not crafty, marched into the General’s office with a plan. “I think I’m probably misplaced here,” he announced. “I’d be much better utilized in Intelligence. I speak foreign languages. I’m fluent in Italian and Spanish, I can get by in French, and I also know a smattering of German.” It was all true, although because we were at war with North Korea, I’m not sure how any of those skills mattered. In any case, the General bought the pitch, and my father soon found himself with a top-secret clearance.
During that time, Mom and Dad lived off base in a motel room because Dad was supposed to be deployed to Korea any minute. Every day they waited for his papers to arrive. Mom was isolated and had nothing to do all day, so she put her considerable energies into a lot of cleaning and knitting. At night they watched television. In those days you had to put a coin in the slot to watch a motel television, but when the coin box broke and my mom – in all of her honesty – told the proprietors about it, they felt so sorry for her being alone all day that they decided to “forget” to fix it. So Mom and Dad had free TV for all those months. As long as she lived, she was always grateful for that.
She and Dad would get out to the Officers’ Club every Saturday night, though. “For one buck,” she told me, “you picked out your huge T-bone. Thick, and choice meat. The army had the best meat in the world. And then they had all the other stuff on buffet tables and salad tables. And they cooked your steak right in front of you. For a dollar!”
Months passed, and more months, and the deployment papers never came. It was a classic army snafu.
In any case, at the beginning of this whole process, Mom and Dad stood at the counter at the Oakland Hall of Records waiting for a copy of his birth certificate to submit to the army. The woman helping them returned with a wry smile on her face. “Well, I see you have a very unusual middle name,” she said, mysteriously.
“What do you mean?” my dad replied. “Raymond?”
“Oh, no. Fug.”
Well, that certainly blew their minds!
My father made the mistake, when he first got into the service, of telling a fellow soldier about his newfound middle name. It was a grave error. From that point on, he couldn’t walk through the base without someone hollering “Hey, Fug!” at him.
And when his two years were up, his army buddies sent him off with a party, a poem, and a cartoon. The presentation was called “Fug’s Final Feature.”
I now have a certified copy (dated 1980) of Dad’s birth certificate, and it offers Option No. 3. It lists his name as Gerald Gus Bocciardi. Gustavo was his father’s name.
I don’t know what happened. Maybe the original original did show Fug as his middle name. Or maybe someone transcribed or typed something incorrectly along the way, and “Gus” became “Fug.”
You know, maybe the army never got Dad’s papers sorted out because they were looking for Gerald Raymond, who technically didn’t exist. Or maybe they were looking for someone named Fug. I don’t know. Things happen for a reason, though. Had Dad gone off to Korea, it’s possible that his ineptitude would have singlehandedly and inadvertently sabotaged the entire U.S. war effort. On a more serious note, it’s also possible that he never would have come back.
I’m glad you made it home, Fug.