Living A Storied Life

When 82-year-old Frank Bergin looks back at the past, he has many images that come to mind - emigrating from Ireland in 1929; meeting his wife, Laurina; and fighting in WWII. Bergin also recounts the histories of his parents with remarkable detail, weaving the tale of four generations of his family on three continents.
Now some of Bergin's storied history now can be read in a new book - While Mem'ry Brings Us Back Again, published by the Aisling Irish Center - but the story begins and ends before and after that which is written in the published account.
Bergin likes to begin the history with how his father moved to Sydney, Australia to work and met his first wife, &#8220Kitty” Cavanagh, with whom he had two boys.
&#8220When his wife died, he packed up the two boys and Biddy [the house nurse] and moved back to Ireland,” Bergin said.
It was on the boat back to his homeland, that Frank's father, Daniel Charles Bergin, met his second wife, Bergin's mother, Helen Victoria Hope.
&#8220They got on the ship in Sydney and stopped in Melbourne to pick up some passengers,” Bergin said. &#8220They liked to say that they were engaged by the West Coast of Africa.”
After they were married in London, the family moved to Cork City, where Bergin and his two brothers were born. Bergin's father, who has served in the Irish Free State Army, decided to take his leave - two years salary - and pack up the family for Boston. The crew - five kids and two parents - took a seven-day boat ride on the S.S. Cedric to America.
&#8220My mother had twins as soon as we got to America,” Bergin said, describing how his family first lived in Boston, where his father opened a business with a friend. Then when the stock market crashed in 1929, the shop went belly up, and the Bergins moved to Brooklyn. Unlike many other immigrants at the time, Bergin's father was able to find work to support his family's meager life.
&#8220Staying alive was the primary concern,” Bergin said. However, the family scraped by as Frank's father found work in several jobs including one working for William C. Archer, who drafted the New York State Workman's Compensation Law.
Taking after his father, Bergin has always been on the skinny side, and likes to say that a friend of his aunt once described him as, &#8220so skinny that if it wasn't for his ears, he would fall through his collar.”
A week after graduation from high school, Bergin enlisted in the U.S. Army and was trained in the horse cavalry in Fort Riley, Kansas.
&#8220It was funny because I would never even pet a milkman's horse,” he said, adding that one time a mischievous horse gave him a nip in the butt. During World War II, Bergin fought in Alsace, France, and in 1945, he was shot in the wrist when his outfit was approaching the German-France border in order to clear the German army in Operation Northwind.
&#8220After 70 days in combat, we were clearing the town of Stiring-Wendel, in sight of Saarbrucken,” he recounted in the memoir. &#8220The bullet went right through my wrist and came out the other side as big as an egg … I was quite an attraction for the local kids for some time.”
Bergin spent two months in a hospital in Nice, France, where doctors operated on his arm but didn't realize that Bergin had lost feeling in several fingers. Four days after he returned to duty, the war ended. Years later, he would find out that his hand was partially dead and would need extensive surgery to repair the nerves.
At home in Brooklyn, his mother set to work to play matchmaker for her son, setting him up with a friend's daughter, Laurina, with whom Bergin quickly fell in love. Although the couple planned to marry in September of 1951, they had to push up the wedding date because Bergin was called up to return to service.
On August 18, 1951, Frank and his wife were married, a union that lasted nearly 35 years. In 1986, after their youngest daughter finished her degree, Frank and his wife went on a tour of Ireland, stopping at the place where Bergin was born and christened.
&#8220I said pack your bags, we're going,” Bergin said. &#8220I wanted her to see where I was born.”
A few months after Bergin and his wife returned to New York - on a New Year's Day - Bergin's wife passed away in their home. Bergin then got back on a plane and returned to Ireland to &#8220clear my head.”
&#8220My wife was an absolute gift from God,” Bergin said. Tragedy also struck Bergin again when his son, Robert Francis, died from lung cancer four years ago.
Over the past few years, Bergin has returned to Ireland several times - six or seven - when he feels the need to go back home.
He also moved to Sunnyside 11 years ago because he had been bouncing around an empty, eight-room house in New Jersey. In Queens, he has found a neighborhood where he can regale residents with his stories - of walking through the Queens Midtown Tunnel before it was completed and of traveling to Nassau in the Bahamas and almost not being allowed back into the United States because he didn't bring any I.D.
To keep busy, Bergin sells real estate in sunny Florida for All Nations Realty in Kew Gardens and works for the Irish Business Organization of New York, where he is a lifelong member and served as president for three years - from 1979 to 1981.
And Bergin has a plan for the future - to celebrate his 100th birthday party in 2024 and keep in touch with his five children and 11 grandkids.

More from Around New York