Local vet honored on 100th birthday
HAMMONTON—On February 21, dozens of vehicles lined the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel carnival grounds to take part in a birthday motorcade to celebrate George Cappuccio’s 100th birthday, which was that day.
“Celebrating with the COVID virus, of course, is extremely difficult, because we wanted to express his monumental age of 100, but we can’t, so we’re attempting to give him a little love and kindness and support that we can. In many ways, he’s so humble and dear to our hearts, that, at this difficult time, we want to let George and his family know how much we care and love him as a fellow veteran and human being,” said American Legion F.A. Funston Post 186 Commander Dave Colofranson.
Colofranson and fellow American Legion member Bret Tunick coordinated the event at the request of Cappuccio’s daughter, Diane Wallace.
“He was supposed to have something in the hall; the Legion was going to give him a party. We figured, since we can’t do that, Bret and I put it together that we could have the drive-by,” Wallace said.
Tunick explained further.
“His daughter called me about a month ago and asked if we can do that, because there’s nothing else we really can do. If it wasn’t for this situation, we would have had a big party at the American Legion ...She asked me if we can do the drive-by. I called the commander, and he said yeah, let’s do it. The commander called the chief of police, who said he’d get two squad cars. I got a cake made for him, and we got balloons for him that we’ll put on the vehicles,” Tunick said ahead of the event, which also included live music by Not Another Oompah Band.
Tunick said that he has enjoyed a long friendship with Cappuccio that started because of their association through the American Legion.
“We started because we used to have luncheons over there on Wednesdays and play shuffleboard. He and I were the last two people, so they put us together as a team and we ended up beating everybody. I didn’t even know how to play; I thought he was on the other team. I was standing next to this other guy, and I thought we were a team. When it was over, that guy shook my hand and said, ‘Good game.” I said the same thing, then I found out that I was George’s partner; then I learned how to play the game. We won that game, then the next, and the next, and we beat everyone,” Tunick said.
Now, Tunick said, he and Cappuccio have lunch often.
“We sit and talk, and he shows me pictures of World War II and all the things he did in the war. He’s an amazing guy, he was in field artillery ... It’s funny, too. I’ll tell George let’s have lunch, and he worries we won’t have anything new to talk about; then we’ll talk for four hours. He’s a good guy,” Tunick said.
Colofranson concurred about the value of conversations with Cappuccio.
“It’s a shame that a lot of younger generations don’t take a lifelong experience of 100 years old from someone like George Cappuccio and actually listen; you can learn so much by just listening to George. He has spoken his infinite wisdom to me on several occasions, and has guided me, and has made me a better commander just by knowing him,” Colofranson said.
American Legion adjutant Arthur Orsi said that he first met Cappuccio when they worked together at Whitehall Laboratories.
“Sometimes, we would drive in together, we would work overtime together. He raised a big family, he and his wife. He’s just the kind of guy that you like to be with and talk to. He has a nice personality, a good sense of humor. He never was sharp or curt with anyone; he wasn’t argumentative or boisterous. He just had that feeling that, when you worked with him or associated with him socially or at work, you were working with a great guy. I loved working with the guy,” Orsi said.
Orsi said that the American Legion had originally planned a celebration for Cappuccio similar to one held when the late Angelo Scaltrito turned 100 in 2018.
“Of course we can’t do that because of the COVID, so we’re going to have to do something different. Unfortunately, we’re not able to be with all our buddies, but we do want to do something for the guy. I think Bret and Dave have done a nice job of putting the best thing we can together to show George our appreciation for him,” Orsi said.
For his part, Cappuccio was completely taken aback by the outpouring of appreciation for his birthday.
“Oh man, I think this is wonderful. I never, ever expected anything like this,” Cappuccio said.
Cappuccio said that he certainly did not feel his years.
“I feel the same as yesterday. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel more like it,” he said.
Cappuccio attributes his longevity to a life well-lived.
“It’s kind of hard. My life have always been, try to be good to everybody else. Do unto others. Be good. Be good to your family, and try to do the best you could. I was never anything big; just a guy,” he said.
Cappuccio also experienced another milestone; on February 23, he celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary with his wife, Agatha, whom Colofranson referred to as “his first and only love.”
“It’s a cherished story that you do not find these days. His love for her and affection still is as strong today as it was when they first met,” Colofranson said.
Cappuccio said that he and his wife first met at a skating rink.
“I had a friend I used to skate with—a girl—all the time. I’d ask her for a dance, and she’d say, ‘I’ll think about it.’ She’d never say yes. One day, I felt like an argument, I guess; I said, ‘Tell me yes or no.’ She said, ‘I’ll think about it.’ There was a strange girl; I never saw her before. I said, ‘You want to dance?’ She said, ‘Wait’ll I take my jacket off.’ It was Aggie; I married her, and here we are,” Cappuccio said.
That, Cappuccio said, was shortly before he entered military service in World War II.
“That was 1942. I did three years in the Army—France, Germany, Italy—I saw 10 guys killed in front of me, and three real-near misses, and here I am ... But, I have a beautiful, beautiful family, and I thank my wife for almost everything I have, because she’s such a wonderful woman. What else could I say?” Cappuccio said.