He died serving in a conflict few Americans now remember. And for years, his damaged tombstone was hidden under a thick forest of weeds in a long-neglected Jewish cemetery in Queens, his bronze Marine plaque stolen by vandals.
But in a ceremony Sunday at Ozone Park’s Bayside Cemetery, Private First Class Irving Aron — a Marine killed in action in Nicaragua in 1930, at age 22 — finally got his day in the sun (literally, as it was a cloudless and temperate summer morning). And so did Anthony Pisciotta, the 41-year-old volunteer who located the Brooklyn hero’s grave and brought Aron’s story to the attention of the Marine Corps League.
Holding aloft a United States flag and a Marines flag, a delegation of Marines veterans paid their respects to Aron, right, who in 1931 posthumously received a Navy Cross, the second-highest military decoration for valor. Pisciotta, made an honorary member of the Marine Corps League on Sunday, unveiled Aron’s new tombstone, which was donated and engraved by Parkside Memorial Chapels in Rego Park.
Andy Schultz, executive director of the Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries — which in recent years has helped cemetery owner Congregation Shaare Zedek clean and maintain the historic 35,000-grave burial ground — delivered opening and closing prayers.
Pisciotta, left, with beard, a father of two and employee of the Bridge and Tunnel Authority who lives in the Bronx and is not Jewish, has, over the past four years, become a sort-of guardian angel for the cemetery, repairing mausoleums and tombstones, and clearing weeds there in his spare time.
At the ceremony Sunday, he said, “These are not just stones with names on them. They were all people, and each one has a story … We owe it to these people to treat them with respect and dignity.”
Joan Uhalley, whose 92-year-old mother Carol Campanelli, Aron’s niece, is the only living relative who knew the fallen Marine and who now lives in Marin County, Calif., told The Jewish Week the “whole family is indebted to Anthony” and “we’re very grateful to him and for everything everybody has done to bring honor to [Aron’s] memory.”
Until Pisciotta tracked Campanelli down, the family knew of Aron’s medal, but hadn’t known where he was buried. While Campanelli was unable to travel to Sunday’s ceremony, Uhalley said she is hoping to visit Aron’s grave this fall.
“It’s getting me more interested in researching the family history,” she said.