Thoughts & Views: In memory of a Marine

Pacific Stars & Stripes
Pacific Stars & Stripes

See the man in the front in the photo? The one with a camera instead of a rifle? He was a friend of mine, whom I met when we were co-workers at the N.Y. Daily News. The note he wrote on the picture says: “1969 – Vietnam. Pat Luminello – who was old enough to know better, even then.”

The photo was taken when Patrick was the Saigon bureau chief for Pacific Stars and Stripes, the military community’s newspaper. Obviously, he wasn’t a desk jockey. He preferred to cover the Vietnam War out in the field – or the swamps – with the troops.

Pat could handle a rifle, however. He was a Marine combat veteran, with two years’ experience with a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) during the Korean War. During which time, he received two Purple Hearts.

(The BAR, he wrote in a memoir, “was a powerful weapon, but a heavy son of a b—h. It weighed 20 pounds, and twice that with ammo.” He was one of three riflemen in his squad, “and none of us was bigger than 5-feet-6.”)

Pat was the man who taught me that there is no such thing as a “former Marine.” “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” he told me.

He was a local kid, raised in East Newark. He had entered the Corps following graduation from Harrison High School, and while a student there he covered scholastic sports for the Newark Star-Ledger and the now-defunct Hudson County Observer (not the same paper as this, you should note.)

After Korea, he used the G.I. Bill to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a master’s from Columbia.

During his long career in journalism, he also worked for Newsday, the Bergen Record, the Washington Star, the Washington Daily News, the Detroit Free Press, and in the Tokyo bureau of Stars and Stripes. He retired in 1993 after nearly 20 years at the N.Y. Daily News.

And now he’s gone.

On the morning of May 16 (Armed Forces Day, by the way), he died in his Manhattan home after a long illness. He was 82. He leaves to grieve, his widow Minnie Araneta; his son, Nicholas; his daughter, Elizabeth Charrette, five grandchildren – and a host of friends literally around the world. In my case, he was the big brother I never had.

When Pat and I first met and he learned that I was then living in Kearny, we shared some memories of West Hudson. And of the Jackson St. Bridge, of all things.

I recalled how, when I was little and growing up in Down Neck, Newark, I’d often sit daydreaming in my window overlooking the Passaic River and the exotic Harrison landscape beyond. There was a lot of river traffic back then, and my reveries were often shattered by the tugboats or freighters sounding their horns (three times) to alert the bridgekeeper, who then sounded the bridge horn (three times) to acknowledge he would open the span. “Damn horns,” I said.

Pat asked what year that might have been and when I told him, he said, “I was the guy in the bridge!” Turned out he had had a summer job there one year. File under: Small world.

I think that forged our friendship, along with our mutual love for books and old movies and travel and good conversation. We even remained friends despite his failed attempts to teach me poker. (He should have been in the World Series of . . .; I still can’t remember the difference between a flush and straight.)

Pat once explained that the English translation of his Italian surname was “little light.” Which is kind of ironic, because Patrick’s light was brilliant – his intelligence, his, humor, his love for his family, lit up the world.

And he could write.

Patrick turned 21 on June 18, 1953, on the troopship that was bringing him home from combat in Korea. Here’s his description of the ship’s arrival in San Francisco, which he called, “One of the most moving moments of my life” :

“My first sight of America after almost two years away was the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance, shining in the sunlight. As we drew near, music came drifting across the bay, and then this lovely soprano voice . . . “ [The singer was MGM star Kathryn Grayson. The song was “My Hero.”] “There weren’t too many dry eyes aboard that troopship as we crushed against the rail to get closer to her and to home.

“We were young Marines, toughened by war and trained to be disciplined, but at that moment we were just a bunch of kids, finally coming home to our mothers and our families.

“We were alive, and most of us were in one piece.”

– Karen Zautyk 

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