LA GRANGE HIGHLIANDS – A unique upbringing and serving in World War II led to a life defined by faith, family and a flair for the arts, for Frank Del Monaco of LaGrange Highlands.
The 92-year-old lost his father at age 4, when a drunk driver hit his dad’s car in a hit and run accident. His mother was left with five young boys in Chicago to raise on her own. Thankfully, Del Monaco’s father had been a member of the Moose fraternal organization, which provided a home for the family in the Mooseheart community for families in need, located west of Chicago between Batavia and North Aurora.
Del Monaco lived at Mooseheart until graduating from high school.
“It was a wonderful place to grow up,” he said.
At Mooseheart, he and his brothers lived in a separate building from his mother and other women, who worked for the organization. But they were able visit her every day after school.
“There was a lot of discipline, and a lot of freedom,” Del Monaco said.
Every night for 15 minutes, he and the other youths at Mooseheart studied catechism – Christian religious teaching -- for which Del Monaco found he had a keen interest that would become lifelong.
Once a week, he and the other children at Mooseheart gathered in a hall and listened to live radio broadcasts of orchestra and band performances from New York. He also played the tuba in the Mooseheart band. These experiences left him with a deep appreciation for music.
Del Monaco was drafted into the army at 18 and sent to Southern France, where he was a replacement to the Third Infantry Division. He became a BAR man – the one in his squad carrying a Browning automatic rifle which weighed nearly 20 pounds and could fire twenty rounds in two seconds. The life expectancy of a BAR man, because of the gun’s identifiable sound, was just under three days at that time.
Del Monaco was among the troops that helped push the Germans out of France and back into Germany, in the middle of a harsh winter. In the city of Mulhouse, Del Monaco was wounded by shrapnel from a .88 cannon shell, he said.
“I could feel the blood running down my legs,” he said. “I thought I was going to die – so I prayed.”
He spent his 19th birthday in a military hospital in France and was later sent to a hospital in New York. It was there that he found out all of his squad members had been killed in combat after he left the front.
“When I heard the news, it was scary,” he said.
Del Monaco spent nearly a year in recovery, finishing it in a Clinton, Iowa military hospital with a piece of shrapnel remaining in his leg and a damaged urethra that doctors said might make him unable to father children.
The shrapnel caused him great pain when he was a mail deliverer a few years after the war in LaGrange and required additional surgery. He and his new bride, Judy, had moved during the post-war building boom to a new home near 55th Street – still a gravel road then – where they still live today. The prognosis of infertility proved to be wrong, as the couple had six children.
His choices of occupation were diverse, which in addition to mail delivery mostly involved sales of products including steel and cars. But what has defined his life has not been the jobs he held to support his family, but rather his enduring spirituality and passion for artistry.
Del Monaco’s interests are intertwined – one energizes another, he said. On the car radio one day years ago, he heard “Ode to Joy, the third movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and was overwhelmed.
“It had such an impact on me,” he said.
The music inspired a stained glass work he later created for his brother, depicting piano keyboard and a backdrop of musical notes of various sizes and colors.
A picture of it is featured in a book by Del Monaco, along with photos of other stained glass windows he made over the years in a hobby he started while in his 50s.
Most of his many stained glass creations – from picture windows to gazebo skylight panes – were gifts to family members and friends. Each took hours of meticulous craftsmanship to create. Eventually, wanting to spare his wife all the time he spent in his craft room at home, he took up another art form– writing.
Del Monaco has written short stories and poems, some inspired by events in his life and others simply coming from his imagination. These also can be found his book, “Intermezzzo,” along with essays about his past experiences, including those during wartime. The book was published this year by Christian Faith Publishing, Inc. His faith is the core of all his pursuits and of his beliefs, he said.
Although Del Monaco has had a diversified, full life, one thing he regrets not being able to pursue more fully goes back to his early exposure to music and how it connects to his faith.
His childhood dream was to be a pilot – and he was an avid model plane hobbyist as a boy.
“But that was a weak second to what I later believed was not using the gift of my voice to its fullest,” he said.
His was one of the founding families of St. Cletus Parish in LaGrange and sang in the choir there for about 30 years, and was in local choruses, too. Boasting a two and a half octave vocal range, he sang many solos took private lessons in La Grange.
“By this time, we had six children and had difficulty making ends meet, so there was never a chance to go out on my own and compete in the music world,” Del Monaco said.
But now, his writing and his growing family – he and Judy have 28 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren – are his life, and his loves.
“I regret not having been able to really develop and display this gift -- not for the money or notoriety, but because I could not use it on a larger scale to honor the gift-giver and to encourage others to use their gift.”