Last week, in Ridgewood, New Jersey, a 92-year-old unsung American patriot lost his battle with congestive heart failure. He had been surrounded by his wife and children and their spouses and their children. He left this vale of tears in his wife’s arms, peacefully and with dignity.
His was an American life.
He was born in Newark, New Jersey, during the Roaring ’20s, the son of Italian immigrants who had come to America as children. When he was 4 years old, he met a curly-haired little girl in the neighborhood who was just three days older than he. She would become his high school sweetheart and his best friend for 88 years and his wife for the last 70 of them.
In a large public high school, he did not excel in academics, but he was a superb athlete; and he had an unquenchable interest in electronics, a subject not taught in the public schools in those days.
His graduation from high school in 1943 was accelerated from June to January because the country was fighting in World War II and it needed the boys to join the effort quickly. Our boy enlisted in the Navy.
Four months after graduation, at age 17, he completed Navy boot camp and was excited about his first assignment — on a submarine in the north Atlantic. As he was boarding the submarine at a naval base in Rhode Island, he slipped and fell on a wet dock and broke his right foot. He was hospitalized for two months. The submarine he was about to enter never returned and was never found.
He was then assigned to a destroyer escort, which cruised the Mediterranean and supported Patton’s Army in the liberation of Italy. Aboard ship, he excelled in electronics and boxing — always the athlete yet reading about wires and batteries and electrical currents until late in the night.
One day, shortly after the liberation of Naples, the city of his father’s birth, he was on leave with his buddies and he saw an old man who resembled his grandfather sitting on a curb stone. The old man’s home had been destroyed by Allied bombing, and the old man himself was without shoes.
Our friend resisted the collective wisdom of his buddies and took off his military-issued boots and gave them to the old man. He had his buddies sneak him back aboard ship before his superiors could see him in his stocking feet.
When he was charitable, he hid it.
He returned home to New Jersey in 1946. The little girl had grown up to be a beauty and a brain. During the war, she worked in the Newark Public Library for 17 cents an hour. She borrowed and read a book a week in the 2 1/2 years of our man’s involvement in the war.
Two years after he came home, he and that grown-up girl got married.
His first and only adult job was with the New Jersey Bell Telephone Co. He started out climbing telephone poles, and he went on to install equipment in homes and offices. He soon moved into management and eventually went into teaching — his favorite job.
He taught electronics to new employees and colleagues and even to executives who wanted to advance themselves. This was the electronics he had learned in the Navy, supplemented by the electronics that he had taught to himself.
He and his wife had three boys, one of whom followed him into the telephone company and two of whom received scholarships to Ivy League schools. He taught tough lessons to his boys at home — lessons about honesty, humility, self-reliance and teamwork. His favorite one-liner was, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
He practiced what he preached. He was a tough taskmaster who demanded much and gave much; and he always forgave. Always. He was an iron fist inside a velvet glove.
He was the first person in his family to vote Republican, and he took a lot of heat for that. FDR had catered to immigrant families in the big cities, and they formed a healthy part of the base of the Democratic Party in the 1930s and ’40s. But when the boys came home from Europe and the Pacific and started families and then when Ike ran and many of his soldier and sailor buddies could vote for their former supreme Allied commander, he did so.
Voting Republican in the late ’40s and early ’50s was anathema in an Italian-American Roman Catholic family in the Northeast. Today it is pretty much the norm.
He would explain to his parents and in-laws and sons that he feared the Democrats would give away the store to stay in office. Though he loved the Navy and respected the police, he was skeptical of government in general, and he loved Jefferson’s mantra that “that government is best which governs least.”
He was a devout Roman Catholic. He loved the New York Yankees, the New York Football Giants and Fox News — and he loved that girl he married, more with each passing day.
In his waning years, his wife sacrificed dearly for him because his tobacco-ravaged heart was unable to do its job alone. Yet modern science and a wife who overlooked nothing added many happy years to his life.
But nature has her rhythms, and they can be unforgiving. There is a time for living and a time for dying. Even God died. After this marvelous man received the Anointing of the Sick and he said a peaceful, loving goodbye, the angels came and brought his soul to heaven.
I knew this man well and loved him with all my heart. He taught me all his values.
His name was Andrew Alexander Napolitano.
He was my father.
Requiescat in pace, Dad.