The year was 1955. Pete Caruso had recently graduated from high school. He was night manager of one of the first drive-in hamburger restaurants in Los Angeles: King’s Drive-In.
And Pete was president of the Ravens – they called it a car club, but in reality it was not much more than a street gang. Each guy had his own car, lowered in back to nearly touch the ground. Pete’s car was an Oldsmobile Convertible. The coolest car around!
The Ravens loved to challenge rival car clubs, resulting in not a few fights. Pete liked to be near six-foot-six tall Cliff McMullen at those times. But Pete was a crafty fighter. He knew how to use a well-placed kick to the shin with his steel toed boots to end some fights even before they began.
Pete saw himself as a really tough guy, sometimes practicing his grimace in the mirror. He was proud that he hadn’t cried since before he was a teen. But the fights were getting more violent – not just fists, bats, brass knuckles, steel tipped boots, and knives, but guns were now becoming more common. As president of the Ravens, Pete was a target, and he began to worry about his safety.
Then they heard that the U.S. government was going to end the Korean War GI benefits: Only those who enlisted before February, 1955 would get the benefits. It was a way out without losing face. Pete and several of his buddies decided to join up. (A few months later the guy who took Pete’s place as President of the Ravens was stabbed and spent several weeks in the hospital recovering.)
Boot camp was so tough several in his unit actually committed suicide. A bad case of influenza resulted in Pete missing out on being sent overseas with his buddies. After his second eight weeks of training, Pete came home for a weekend before being sent to his permanent station.
On Saturday night he got drunk, really drunk – like he used to with his buddies. Then Sunday morning his brother, John, recently mustered out of the army himself, began shaking the bed. “Wake up, you’re gonna go to church.” Pete’s stomach was violently opposed to John’s enthusiasm.
“Leave me alone. You’re makin’ me sick!” Pete growled back. John wouldn’t give up. “Get out of bed. We’re goin’ to church.” The only way to stop John was for Pete to get up and go to church with him.
Pete had always thought church was for sissies. There he sat in a young men’s Sunday School class in Inglewood, California, listening to a muscular, fellow Italian-American talk about his cool car, his family, and his love for God. Pete could see that Johnny Giordano was no sissy. Pete listened to every word as Johnny explained how God loved each one of them and that Jesus gave up His life so that they could have their sins forgiven.
Pete remembers looking at his hands, turned white, as he held to the arms of his chair trying to resist this message of God’s love. The next thing he remembers is being on his knees, weeping, and asking for God’s forgiveness.
When he left the classroom that morning, the sky was bluer, the air smelled cleaner, and the world seemed such a beautiful place. In fact, it was like he was seeing everything for the first time. And he was – he was a new creation in Christ Jesus. No longer was he carrying his own sins. Christ had removed them.
That was May 22, 1955…
In more than half a century as the new Pete Caruso, with God’s help he has touched a lot of lives:
3 years in the U.S. Army
4 years earning a B.A. from Southern California College (now Vanguard University)
Married Beverly Hall, a shy 17-year-old. He encouraged and nurtured her, to eventually become a speaker and author.
Fathered and reared three children, all actively serving the Lord.
Grandfather to eight, and Great Grandfather to eight (soon to be nine).
Youth Pastor at First Assembly of God, Garden Grove, CA.
Pioneered Olive Assembly of God Church, and pastored there for 21 years, training and sending over 100 individuals into full time Christian work.
Pioneered New Life Community Church, and pastored there for 14 years.
Founded Rancho de la Paz, a hospitality center for ministers and missionaries on-the-move.
Ministered in over forty nations…and not about to quit… He and Bev will soon be off to… somewhere, to preach and teach in yet another nation where God will send them.
© Beverly Caruso