Marie DeSantis (left) was interviewed at StoryCorps in New York City by her grandson, Mark Hayes.
Marie DeSantis, 80, remembers the day the dreaded telegram arrived in late 1944. Her brother Joe was fighting in Germany and word came that he was missing in action.
DeSantis, 18 at the time, was afraid to tell her parents. "I ran to get my three sisters, who were at church. And I said, 'You have to come home. Mama and Papa need you.'"
"We were so upset, my sister, instead of getting in the car, she ran... all the way home alongside the car. It was the worst news you could get."
It was decided the family, who lived in Staten Island, N.Y., wouldn't have a Christmas tree that year because of Joe. "We don't know if he's alive, we don't know anything, so we're going to not have a Christmas tree," DeSantis recalls her mother saying.
Then on Christmas Eve, a letter came from Joe: "I'm in a hospital. I'm all right, I'll come home soon. By now you must be putting up the Christmas tree."
A day earlier, DeSantis' other brother, John, had bought a tree home and tucked it under the porch in hopes that the family would celebrate the holiday after all.
"So we put it up and we decorated it — 'This one's for you, Joe' — and it turned out nice," DeSantis says.
Produced for 'Morning Edition' by Michael Garofalo. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Sarah Kramer.