PFC Joseph Lorino 11-11-2018
For Passaic soldier, a Purple Heart that comes from the heart
Richard Cowen, North Jersey Record Published 7:17 p.m. ET Nov. 11, 2018
MANAHAWKIN — The church bells at St. Mary’s rang at the appointed time on Sunday: at the stroke of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. One hundred years had passed since the end of World War I, and a family gathered to finally give one soldier his due.
Joseph Lorino was an Italian immigrant from Sicily who left his adopted city of Passaic in 1917 to fight a war for his adopted country and never came home. On Sunday, while President Donald Trump was in Paris to pay tribute to the soldiers who fought in World War I, Lorino’s distant relatives came to St. Mary of the Pines to receive the Purple Heart and other medals, officially ending a 20-year battle with the U.S. government for a soldier who died long ago.
“It hurts,” said Anthony Lorino, a Fair Lawn resident and one of the fallen soldier’s three nephews who traveled to the Jersey Shore church to accept the medals. “I really can’t explain how I feel. I never knew him. I never met him. But I’m remembering him. And I'm remembering my sister, Josephine."
Anthony accepted the medals along with his brothers, Victor, a Vietnam War veteran from Boonton, and John, who is from Garfield.
Part of the hurt is that the family has been trying for nearly two decades to get the U.S. Army to officially recognize Joseph Lorino’s sacrifice and award the Purple Heart and other medals to the family. But Army regulations hold that medals can be awarded only to immediate family members — widows who haven’t remarried, parents, eldest siblings, eldest children or grandchildren — and none of Lorino’s descendants fit the definition.
John Pescatore, whose late wife, Josephine, was the soldier’s niece, has been on a mission for nearly 20 years to get proper military honors for Joseph Lorino. He reached out to two congressmen, Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, and Tom MacArthur, R-Toms River, who wrote letters on his behalf, but the Army wouldn’t budge.
Finally, as a compromise, Pescatore had two clubs from Lorino’s hometown of Passaic, the local VFW post and Unico, which is an Italian-American organization, buy the medals so they could be awarded after the homily at Sunday's Mass. The Knights of Columbus, of which Pescatore is a member, also participated.
Pescatore said that as a compromise, the Army advised the family that it could buy the medals and have them as a keepsake. But Pescatore said the family wanted something more than a keepsake.
“We felt that it should be up to the American people to thank him,” Pescatore said. “Not his family.” The involvement of the organizations accomplished that.
Pescatore, 76, led Sunday’s ceremony, which took place after the homily at the Veterans Day Mass. He told how his fascination with a man he never knew began way back when Pescatore was 17 years old and growing up in Paterson.
Pescatore was dating Josephine Lorino, who was 15 and lived in Garfield. Her family invited him over for Sunday dinner, and she took him upstairs to show him the living room. “You could tell it was an Italian house, because all the chairs in the living room had plastic seat covers,” he told the congregants, drawing laughter.
He spotted the odd, oval-shaped portrait of the soldier in his doughboy uniform hanging on the wall. Above the soldier's head were two crossed flags, one American, one Italian.
“Who’s that?” Pescatore asked.
“I’m really not sure,” Josephine Lorino replied. “My father doesn’t even speak about him.”
Pescatore became a Bergen County cop, and little by little, he learned about the man who left his family in Sicily and came to America, arriving at Ellis Island on July 5, 1906. He went to Passaic, where he and his brother ran a candy store on Main Avenue until Joseph Lorino joined the Army in November 1917.
Five months later, he shipped out with the Army from Camp Dix in New Jersey, bound for Europe.
Lorino never made it back alive. Through his service records, Pescatore learned that Lorino was wounded on Oct. 16, 1918, at a place called Talma Farm, just outside Grand Pré, France. He died six days later, on Oct. 22.
Exactly how he was wounded, and why he died six days later, remains a mystery. Lorino was first buried in the farm field where he fell, along with other American soldiers, by a French woman and her three daughters, their dog tags hung on wooden crosses, Pescatore said.
After the war ended, American soldiers came by and exhumed the remains, and the soldiers were given a proper burial at what is now the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, where he remains.
Pescatore has never seen the grave. His research was limited to the scant records available to him. But he described what he called two “miracles” that happened during his 20-year project.
The first happened in 2006, when he and Josephine were attending the graduation party of a niece at the Black River Barn in Randolph in Morris County. Josephine went to the buffet table to get a cup of coffee and spotted a picture on the wall of the restaurant.
It was a picture of a group of about 300 soldiers standing in front of their barracks at Camp Dix, dressed in World War I uniforms. Pescatore remembers his wife rushing back to the table.
“I looked up and he was looking right at me,” he recalls her saying. “I didn’t find him. He found me." The owner of the restaurant gave them the picture on the spot.
The second strange coincidence happened just last month. On Oct. 22, Pescatore posted the oval portrait of Joseph Lorino on his Facebook page, to tell the world about the man’s sacrifice. He sent the post to a Facebook page dedicated to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the climactic final battle of World War I, when Joseph was killed.
Pescatore said he was astounded when his post was answered by a French man, who said his family still owns the Talma Farm, where Joseph died. The man provided old photos of the battlefield, and of the makeshift cemetery with the wooden crosses where Joseph was initially buried.
“The miracle of the World Wide Web!” Pescatore marveled. He said both the restaurant picture and the Facebook post were works of what he called "divine intervention."
Pescatore said that with his new French connection, he may one day travel to see the grave. On Sunday, he thanked three organizations at home — the Knights of Columbus, the VFW and Unico — for providing what he said was a true honor.
“It’s so much nicer this way,” said Pescatore. “These medals are coming from the heart, not the government.”