An American story
July Fourth is also the birthday of Jamestown resident Alena Caldarone, and this year it's the 60th anniversary of the day she arrived in New York Harbor, her boat sailing under the approving gaze of the Statue of Liberty along with dozens upon dozens of war brides coming "home" to meet the American GIs they married overseas.
Alena Zarubova met Bill Caldarone in her hometown of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, at a dance hosted by townsfolk in honor of their American liberators.
"Her back was to me, but she had great legs," Bill said about his first glance at Alena. She shushed him. "You can't put that in the paper," the reserved Alena told him.
"Then, when she spoke English to me, I was interested," Bill continued.
Alena said she took English in high school and even won the class prize for being the most proficient in the language.
"I always loved the sound of English," Alena said, noting that during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, she and her parents would huddle around the quietly playing radio to hear the BBC broadcasts. When it came time to study a foreign language, Alena said, the class was divided in two based on what letter of the alphabet their last name began with. "I was a Z," Alena said, noting that the last half of the alphabet had to take French. But she hated French, Alena said, and her mother went to the principal to ask if Alena could be transferred to an English class.
Things happened pretty fast for Alena and Bill. They met in May 1945, were engaged by July, and then married in the giant Gothic cathedral in the center of Pilsen in September. After a honeymoon in the Czech mountains, where Alena noted that everything they saw on the train ride "was in ruins," they returned to live with Alena's parents. The war was ending and Bill was sent home to the States in November, but it took several more months before the government was able to provide the necessary documents for Alena to travel to be with him.
Finally, in June 1946, Alena, along with many other war brides, was sent by train from Prague to Paris, where they were put up at the government's expense - "with good food, too" - at one of the swankiest hotels in the city. At LeHavre, France, the women from England, Belgium, France, and all over Europe boarded a ship bound for New York.
On July 4, 1946, Alena, on her 20th birthday, and countless other women arrived to meet the men who loved them.
"Everything was closed," Bill said about New York City because it was a holiday. But the two walked all over town, with Alena marveling at the "great canyons" of skyscrapers, a sight she had never seen before. The next day they went to the top of the Empire State Building, Alena said.
She became an American citizen in 1948.
"I'm very patriotic," Alena said about being an American, "and I love fireworks on my birthday," she added, but she lamented that as a result of telling her tale to the Press, "Everyone will know how old I am."
"Freedom means a lot to me," Alena said, because she grew up in a free country, then lived under German occupation as a teenager. After leaving Czechoslovakia, she could not return to visit her parents until 1957 because the country came under Communist rule. Finally, after having three daughters, and starting their own medical laboratory business, Alena was able to get a visa to see her parents again.
America has given much to Alena, and she has given back by being involved for decades in conservation and environmental causes.
"I grew up loving nature," Alena said. "We went for long walks, sometimes mushrooming," in her childhood, she added.
Here in Rhode Island, Alena has been involved in state conservation groups, as well as those in Cranston and Jamestown. She is a member of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society and is a member and past-president of the Quononoquott Garden Club.