From the time he landed in Okinawa to the end of World War II, Alfonso Romanello kept a photo in his pocket.
Worn and faded, the photo captures a moment in 1944 in Hawaii with Hugh Roselle, a fellow soldier in the 77th Infantry Division and Romanello's best friend from the war.
For Romanello, this is the last piece he has of Roselle, who was killed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
Before the picture was taken, Romanello and Roselle had just ate lunch together at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu. Their division had been stationed in Hawaii in preparation to visit other islands in the Pacific.
“All of a sudden, this Hawaiian comes up to us and says ‘Come on, let me take your picture,’ so he took our picture and said ‘I’ll have it ready when you come back,’ ” Romanello said. “He had it ready and didn’t charge us a penny.”
Romanello said he and Roselle, who was from Texas, had an instant connection when they first met. When he finished basic training at Fort Hood, Romanello was sent to Los Angeles for additional training, where he first met Roselle.
“Going to Los Angeles, a lot of guys from other camps were coming in and I met this guy (Roselle) and we became really good friends going overseas,” he said.
Romanello remembers he and Roselle doing many things together, such as going on tours of the Los Angeles and later Seattle, where they were stationed before shipping off to Hawaii. In fact, it was Roselle who took care of Romanello when he became sick overseas across the Pacific Ocean.
“He brought me food and whatever else when I was on the ship,” he said. “I would’ve done the same for him.”
After tours through Guam and Saipan, the 77th Infantry Division was sent to Okinawa, where Romanello and Roselle were part of the division's 305th Infantry Regiment. Landing on the island was the last time Romanello would ever see Roselle.
“My company went one way, his company went another way,” Romanello said. “When we got together later on, I was told he was killed.”
The Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battles during the war in the Pacific. In Romanello and Roselle’s regiment, 517 soldiers were killed in action, according to the 1947 book “Ours to Hold It High: The History of the 77th Infantry Division in World Ward II.” Over 20,000 American soldiers were killed in Okinawa.
“I remember seeing all these dead soldiers and thinking ‘If their mamas and papas could see them now,’” Romanello said. “It went right through my mind that I was lucky I was not one of them.”
Romanello said he tried to get a hold of Roselle's parents, but could never reach them.
During his time in Okinawa and Japan, Romanello kept the picture in his pocket.
"I wanted to make sure I had it," he said.
Romanello said his memory has faded over the years, but that he still thinks about Roselle.
"He was a good man," he said. “I didn’t know him that long, but we got along really good together.”
After getting married, Romanello's wife put the picture in a frame. Now, that picture sits on a table at Romanello’s home in Tuscaloosa.
“It brings back old times about how I missed him and we were just so close together, and all of a sudden, he was killed,” he said.
Reach Drew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0204.