Joseph F. Berenato
On loyalty, loss and leaving a lasting legacy
For last week’s edition of The Hammonton Gazette, I interviewed Anthony Cappuccio about his uncle. Lt. Joseph Centurione, who was killed in action during World War II. Cappuccio spoke about the lasting legacy left behind by his uncle, a man he had never met—Cappuccio was born in 1950—but about whom he wished he knew more.
I have a similar story.
Frank Louis Weber, my mother’s father, was born—along with his twin brother, Francis—on Christmas Day, 1908, in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
I don’t know much about his early years, save for the fact that he was married young and had a son, Frank, in 1929. The marriage ended rather quickly.
Military service was nothing new in Frank’s family; his grandfather, Wolfgang—my great-great grandfather—enlisted in the 29th Missouri Infantry Regiment in 1862 and served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
Eighty years later, in 1942, my grandfather was drafted, and became a part of the 8th Air Force of the Army Air Corps during World War II.
Before being deployed overseas, both Frank and his half-brother, Tom Clarida, were stationed in Atlantic City, where my grandmother, Rosalie Pepper, lived.
Rosalie worked as a manicurist for Anne, Tom’s wife, who wanted to introduce my grandmother to Frank. My grandmother was leery, as the servicemen had a bad reputation among the local girls, but finally she agreed and the two hit it off almost immediately.
During Frank’s deployment, which took him to Casablanca, England and France—where he earned six bronze stars during the Invasion of Normandy—he wrote to my grandmother often, sending her cards, letters and telegrams, addressing her as “Sweetheart” in each one and telling her how he could not wait to see her again.
World War II officially ended on September 2, 1945; three weeks later, on September 23, Frank Weber was honorably discharged. Less than a month later, on October 17, my grandparents married; 364 days later, my mother, Frances, was born.
Frank, Rosalie and Fran lived in Cape Girardeau for a while, where he ran a Phillips 66 gas station before they decided to move to Atlantic City to be close to my grandmother’s family.
Sadly, while visiting his mother before the move, Frank took ill and died of a heart attack on November 11, 1951—Veterans Day—six weeks shy of his 43rd birthday.
As I write this, it is 70 years to the day since he passed. I am 43, and it is jarring to think that Frank was my age when he died, leaving behind a 36-year-old widow who never remarried.
It always saddened me that Mom lost her dad when she was 5, and had so few memories of him, but I was glad that she reconnected with her older brother later in life—which helped me connect with his children, Lisa and Frank, when Mom died in 2004.
After Mom’s death, I inherited all of her father’s things—including school papers, military memorabilia, love letters between my grandparents and the 48-star flag that was draped over his casket—but I have so little context looking through them.
Like Cappuccio, I wish that I had thought to ask Mom more questions. I wish that I knew more about him, but I’m glad I do have the pieces of his life that I do. Looking through pictures he took and letters he wrote help to flesh out the life of a man who now only exists in pictures and on a stone in Missouri that he shares with his brother—who died less than two years after he did.
But he lives on in me and my sisters, in Frank and Lisa and in all of our children and grandchildren. None of us had the chance to know him personally, but the pieces of his life that remain, at least, afford an opportunity to get glimpses of his life and of the man he was.
Like all of us, Frank Weber was by no means flawless, but he served his country faithfully and honorably, and left behind the start of a legacy that continues to impact each of us.
For all of that, I am grateful and proud.
Joseph F. Berenato began as a mild-mannered reporter for The Hammonton Gazette in 1997, and returned to that position in 2019 after an 18-year sabbatical, during which he farmed, taught, became a grandfather, dug graves and wrote, but never so prolifically as he has since his return. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on social media at @JFBerenato and at www.jfberenato.com.