The “Greatest Generation” that fought in World War II and the Korean War, lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the economic expansion of the post-war years and the New Deal is slowly fading away. Bayonne is not exempt from this sad reality.
Frank Perrucci, 91, perhaps the most recognized and beloved face of the local veteran community, is the latest to pass away. He died in late December after a long and celebrated life where he marched in 25 Memorial Day parades, received dozens of awards from local and state organizations, and was a model of civic engagement.
“They’re going to miss a legend,” said his wife, Jean Perrucci. “He was all Bayonne. He did a lot for the community, and I don’t think anyone will ever forget what he’s done for this city.”
“At the end of an event, he had to sing ‘God Bless America.’ He wouldn’t leave until everybody sang it.” — Jean Perrucci
The two Franks
Frank and Jean enjoyed traveling, being together, and dancing. The couple’s favorite song to dance to was “Always” by Frank Sinatra. Perrucci was a big Sinatra fan; he was Italian and a member of the Bayonne chapter of the Sons of Italy.
“We were always very happy together,” Jean Perrucci said. “He was always happy when the grandchildren were around. He was always very good to me. If we went to an event, we were the first ones to get up to dance. At the end of an event, he had to sing ‘God Bless America.’ He wouldn’t leave until everybody sang it.”
An early recruit
Perrucci, known affectionately as “Mr. Selfless,” moved to Bayonne from Brooklyn in 1941 at the age of 14. Three years later, he joined the U.S. Maritime Service and later the U.S. Army, serving at the tail-end of World War II, winning the World War II Victory Medal. In the Korean War, his service earned him the American Campaign Medal.
Upon his return to Bayonne, Perrucci immediately found a home at Our Lady of Assumption church where he’d been a parishioner since 1947. He became a member of the church’s War Veterans Post 1612 in 1948 and rose to become commander of the post in 1964.
In 1970, he founded the Concerned Citizens of Bayonne civic group and later advocated for an elected school board. He spearheaded an effort to bring the U.S.S. New Jersey to Bayonne in the 1970s and to re-purpose the former military base into a naval base in the 1960s. Dozens of awards later, in 2016, Perrucci received the Field of Heroes award at Bayonne High School.
Old soldiers just fade away
Once a large and prominent presence in Bayonne’s Memorial Day parades, Perrucci and his generation have been slowly diminishing. It started in 2013, when Battle of the Bulge veteran Nicholas Oresko, one of Bayonne’s three Medal of Honor recipients, died at the age of 96. Now, more and more World war II veterans are no longer able walk in parades or honor the fallen at cemeteries; sadly, many have moved into nursing homes.
“That generation were true blue veterans,” Jean Perrucci said. “We grew up during the Depression. We appreciated everything.”
For a feature story published in the Bayonne Community News in 2016, Frank Perrucci and a group of elder veterans toured the cemetery at Constable Hook, now tucked between giant oil tanks. He spoke about the appreciation for his veteran colleagues that he carried throughout his life.
“This whole area was overgrown with vegetation,” Perrucci said. “When I worked in construction … I used to come here to have my lunch. I used to sit here and look at all their names. I used to know all these names.”
The mayor remembers
“If there was one man who epitomized the Bayonne spirit, it was Frank,” said Bayonne mayor James Davis. “No parade or ceremony was complete without Frank. A leader of veteran groups and civic organizations, his smile and warmth were always sought out. I have been lucky enough to enjoy monthly lunches with Frank because I truly enjoyed his company and friendship. Our city has lost another icon, but we are stronger because he was here.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org