The man has parachuted into Nazi gunfire.
He has survived six months as a prisoner of war, slept with 19 other POWs in a cell no bigger than a walk-in closet, slurped up soup infested with maggots for dinner.
His mother named him Salvatore, but everyone calls him Sam, and he is the scrappiest little Italian you will ever meet.
Except for one thing. For decades, only a single thing made his leather-tough stomach do somersaults and turned his sturdy legs to jelly.
It involves a tux. An aisle. A ring.
Forget Hitler. Salvatore “Sam” Sambasile was petrified of holy matrimony.
“I guess you could say I wasn't really ready to settle down,” Sam says.
This stance presented two problems.
The first is that Sam is now 88 years old, and if there is an age limit on settling down, he's most certainly crossed it.
The second: Marjorie.
“I always loved her,” Sam says.
“I kept telling him, 'Just say the word!' ” says Marjorie, who is 74.
“I couldn't find the word,” Sam says.
They met during the Reagan administration over spaghetti at the Sons of Italy Hall. A mutual friend introduced them.
Marjorie McCoy was in her late 40s and recently divorced.
Sam was in his early 60s. He had flown 33 missions over Germany — on the 33rd one his B-17 bomber caught fire, he parachuted from the plane and spent the war's final year nearly starving to death in a POW camp. He had come home, hugged his mother and worked his entire career for Union Pacific.
He had long ago gotten married and then gotten divorced. He had grown oh-so comfortable in his bachelor's skin.
And then Marjorie said hello to him. He decided he liked Marjorie.
What did you like about her, Sam?
“Everything,” he says.
They began to date, and everything seemed hunky-dory for the most part. Everything except Sam's stubborn insistence on singledom.
He spent the winters in Arizona. She worked a job in Omaha. She wouldn't quit her job and move halfway across the country without a ring.
He didn't have a ring to give her.
So they broke up, and years passed, and that would've been that — except that they kept bumping into each other at the Sons of Italy.
They kept talking. One day several years ago, Sam mentioned to her that his eyesight was failing. He could no longer drive to Arizona for the winter.
Marjorie offered to drive him.
They left Omaha as two friends. Thirteen hundred miles and three days later, they reached Arizona as a couple.
Marjorie retired from her job, and they spent more time together. She visited him in Arizona in the winters. He spent more time at her west Omaha apartment in the summers.
But the old roadblock remained. Marjorie wanted the word. Sam couldn't find it.
“I'm a patient woman,” Marjorie said.
Sam's brother-in-law has a ranch in the Southwest. Sam went to visit him. During Sam's stay, the brother-in-law decided to get something off his chest.
I'm paraphrasing here, but the message went something like this: Sam, are you the dumbest Italian who ever walked the face of the Earth?
“He said, 'You gotta marry her.' He said, 'You are not ever going to find a better woman.' ”
After that Sam started to bring up the word. He would mention it, and then they would talk about it, and then he would drop it. Again and again.
“Like I told you, I'm a patient woman,” Marjorie says.
But after they spent all of last winter together in Arizona, they came back to Omaha in April. They went to Bergman Jewelers, which has been in Omaha even longer than Sam has.
They bought two rings.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
The wedding was held at the Countryside Community Church. No tux or white dress or big guest list.
Just their nice Sunday clothes, their families and the minister.
Marjorie's granddaughter sang at the wedding. It was exactly as they wanted.
And Sam rented out his house in Little Italy and moved into her apartment on Sunset Valley Country Club. They celebrated Sam's 88th birthday together, husband and wife.
Sam has spent 84 of those years in Omaha.
His eyesight is shot now, and his sturdy legs aren't so sturdy anymore, and he has endured several surgeries on his leather-tough insides.
But a funny thing has happened on the way toward 90.
The old fear has faded away. The word doesn't scare him anymore.
He's happy to say that word now — marriage. He's happy he did.
“I depend on her, I rely on her for almost everything,” Sam tells me. “You just cannot believe how wonderful a woman she is,” he says, and I swear at this point the scrappy old Italian's eyes get a little misty.
Marjorie fills the silence.
“Everybody that knows Sam loves him,” Marjorie says. “He's generous in every way. He's a great guy.”
She turns to her new husband.
“How do you like that?” she says.
“I like it,” Sam says to his new wife.
And then they smile at each other, like newlyweds do.