Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Memory of Uncle Artie

This is a copy of the note I wrote in memorial of Uncle Artie on the day of his wake. It was tucked into his suit pocket before his burial. I read this aloud to the attendees, as the flag was folded to "Taps," and he was saluted by Unites States Naval officers.
Click to enlarge.

I recently attended the funeral and wake of my great Uncle Artie, the brother of my grandma, Rose Esposito, and the godfather of my mother. Not many people are lucky enough to know their great aunts and uncles, but I was.

Uncle Artie lived with my great Aunt Theresa (Sis, or Toot, as she is often called) and Aunt Carly in an apartment on Avenue L in Brooklyn. Whenever we visited with grandma, there was always tea and cookies waiting for us, and toys and videos that my Uncle had once shared with my mother when she was a child. He was the "fun" uncle with sweets and surprises, but it wasn't until later on in my adolescence that I realized what a serious and dedicated gentleman he was.

When I was in high school, I wrote an article on Uncle Artie, and soon discovered that he had been just 17 when he convinced his mother to let him enter the service with his brothers during World War II. Dominick (Chubby) and Alfred went to the army, Arthur to the navy. There, he grew into a man as he braved air raids, mines, U-boats and the Japanese aboard an L.S.T. stationed in the Philippines. He was the recipient of two bronze stars. He saw atrocities that even in his old age, he refused to discuss. When the boys went on leave for days at a time, entertaining themselves with booze and women, Arthur stayed behind. He was respectful of the opposite sex, as he had many older sisters at home that often wrote him long letters from Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

One of those letters was found off the coast of Asia where the L.S.T. had been abandoned before the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb. The young Swedish policeman who found it wrote back years later, wondering what had ever happened to Arthur J. Varone, and if he and his family were well.

Uncle Artie never married. I don't ever remember him having been the dating type either. He was content to watch over his sisters, especially when Aunt Sis lost her husband in the 80's. From then on, the three of them lived together, while my grandma and two other uncles continued to raise their own families.

I never took the time to understand the history of my uncle until the day I wrote the article. He was working in his basement in a new apartment in Staten Island, which he shared with all his sisters. The basement was always immaculate, everything in its rightful place. Uncle Artie was very neat and disciplined, and wouldn't allow any of the women to undertake household fixes.

But that day he showed a softer side; he suddenly reached into a drawer and revealed a pile of old, yellowed B&W photographs from WWII. In one of them, a bare-chested, seventeen year old Italian boy with wildly curly, dark hair and quite a physique, posed atop a ship with comrades. (picture to come soon)

I was immediately hooked on his story, and dove into the photos as he reminisced through each one. He didn't think it was such a big deal, and I don't really know what made him share his past with me, but I will remain grateful for all that I discovered that day.

Uncle Artie died after a long bout with cancer of the esophagus. He was surrounded by his two sisters, but by then he was in too much pain to be lucid. But I'm sure, deep down, he could sense they were there. Though his last few months left him weak and unlike the Uncle Artie we all knew, at least we can always remember the way things were. I only wish that I had taken more advantage of that time we had together.

R.I.P Uncle Artie. You'll always be a hero to us.


World War II veteran was a retired carpenter
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Arthur J. Varone, 82, of Richmond, a World War II veteran and retired carpenter, died Sunday at home.

Born in Brooklyn, he settled in Richmond in 1996.

Mr. Varone worked as a carpenter at Bush Terminal in Brooklyn for 18 years. He retired in 1989.

He served as a seaman first class in the U.S. Navy during World War II, stationed in the Philippines, Asia, and the Pacific aboard transport ships.

Mr. Varone loved opera. A huge sports fan, he also enjoyed baseball and football.

Surviving are a brother, Dominick, and two sisters, Rose Esposito and Theresa J. Shotwell.

The funeral will be Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in the Colonial Funeral Home, New Dorp. Burial will follow in Moravian Cemetery, also New Dorp.


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