3 lauded for public service

KEARNY – An elder statesman/military veteran, an advocate for those afflicted with lupus and a musician/educator were singled out for public praise by Kearny’s governing body last Tuesday, April 25.

Kearny partnered with the Hudson County Office of Veterans Affairs to pay tribute to Lewis T. Battista, 98 years young and a longtime town resident.

Born in Newark in 1919, Battista and his family moved to Kearny in 1924, eventually settling in along Belgrove Drive.

At the time, said Battista’s son, Lew Jr., “Belgrove was a dirt and cinder road. In the ‘30s, Kearny had a curb tax so when they paved Belgrove, each homeowner had to pay a $3 curb tax.

“So my dad used to tell us, ‘See those curbs? We own them,’’’ said Lew Jr.

After graduating from Kearny High, Battista went to work at the former Bamberger’s Department Store in Newark as a stock and sales clerk until Uncle Sam came calling.

In June 1942, he was assigned to the U.S. Army Air Corps and, after basic training in Miami Beach (where the military commandeered the hotels), Denver and Camp Kilmer, N.J., in October, his unit was sent by rail to Staten Island and shipped out in a convoy of cargo ships escorted by two Canadian corvettes (small warships) – one of which was sunk by a German U-boat – but the convoy successfully arrived at its final destination: Belem, a port in Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon.

There, he served as an administrative cargo specialist, for which he had top clearance.

Which, he learned much later, was for good reason, given that chief among the “top priority” cargo that made its way through that base was beryllium, a component of the atomic bomb later dropped on Japan.

During their year and a half sojourn in Brazil, however, U.S. GIs were never told why the materials they were handling were so important to the Allied cause.

Although his unit saw no combat action during his tour in Brazil, it was no picnic: the temperature constantly hovered around 100 degrees and the humidity was just as high. Rain fell every day but it offered no relief from the heat or persistent insects. Iguanas were under foot everywhere.

A few bright spots came in 1943, one in the early part of the year when Eleanor Roosevelt came for an official visit and shared lunch with the soldiers. “We ate well that day,” Battista said. “They served steak.”

And later that year, the GIs were treated to a USO show featuring actors Joe E. Brown, Jackie Coogan and Joel McCrea.

When his unit shipped out in June 1944 and was reassigned to a base in Memphis, Tenn., the soldiers were ordered to empty their duffel bags and burn all their gear since it was waterlogged and rotting.

In 1945, Battista – now a technical sergeant – was honorably discharged and returned to civilian life, working for his dad’s produce business and then as a wholesale banana distributor. Later, he got an electrician’s license and did odd jobs around Kearny. He worked six days a week for much of his life.

In his 90s, his son recalled, “he put a new roof on his garage.”

A few years ago, his family discovered that the old soldier had never received any of the Army decorations he’d been awarded: Marksmanship, Good Conduct, Victory and Ruptured Duck Lapel Pin.

When a query to the Army went unanswered, his son said, “I wrote to President Obama and we got letter from some colonel saying, ‘yes he’s entitled to those medals,’ and, after four months, they finally came this past February.”

So Lew Jr. contacted Joan Northgrave, coordinator of the county Office of Veteran’s Affairs, to arrange for a joint presentation and a town proclamation last week.


Kearny also designated May as Lupus Awareness Month and honored resident Elizabeth Santacruz and her team of volunteers for spreading the word about lupus, a chronic auto-immune disease that causes fatigue, joint pain and butterfly rash.

As noted by Mayor Alberto Santos, lupus strikes more than 5 million people worldwide (including 1.5 million Americans), especially women of color, and is the leading cause of stroke in women.

Because its symptoms tend to mirror those of other ailments, lupus is hard to diagnose and there is no known cure, Santos said.

Santacruz’s 10-year-old daughter, Miah Andrade, who attends Franklin School, has lupus and her mother said it took two years before doctors were able to identify her daughter’s condition.

“Her condition draws energy from her,” Santacruz said, “and she’s been taking physical therapy because her knee locks up on her.” Of late, though, her mom said Mia has shown improvement in being able to walk longer without pain.

Santacruz has been invited to Washington, D.C., to talk to federal lawmakers about the plight of her daughter and others similarly affected.


Finally, the mayor and council adopted a proclamation honoring resident Gerald J. Ficeto as UNICO National, Kearny Chapter’s selection as Man of the Year.

Ficeto, a music educator and board member of W.H.A.T. (West Hudson Arts & Theater Co.), has played with numerous professional bands and orchestras in the New York/New Jersey region.









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