Sometimes when old Marines die they do fade away into unmarked graves in Potter's Field.
Such might have been the case for Gaspar Musso, USMC 925050, who fought in the Battle of Tinian in the Marianas Islands in 1944 and who died Nov. 15 at age 84 in a Brooklyn nursing home.
Enter Police Officer Susan Porcello, a PBA delegate at the 68th Precinct in Bay Ridge and one of those big-hearted New Yorkers who still make this the best city on Earth.
"No way was I going to let this brave old Marine who fought for his country in WWII get buried in Potter's Field," she says.
Porcello first met Musso back in July when she responded to a 911 ambulance call to the retired insurance broker's one-bedroom apartment on, appropriately, Marine Ave.
"When my partner, Eddie Ennis, and I arrived at his apartment Gaspar seemed a little bit down about himself," Porcello says. "He said he felt alone in the world. We talked to him a bit and as I looked around his tidy apartment I noticed that he had served in the military - the Marines to be exact."
Porcello asked him about family and friends. "Look around you, what do you see?" Musso said. "I have no family or friends."
To which Porcello said, "Well, I'm your friend."
Right there, with those four beautiful words, Gaspar Musso was destined to die with the dignity he'd earned with a rifle in his hands, fighting in a USMC uniform, in a war that saved civilization.
If she didn't already wear a badge, you'd want to pin a star on Susan Porcello.
Musso, a diabetic with a host of other age-related maladies, had accidentally overdosed on his prescription medications. Porcello accompanied him to Lutheran Medical Center.
"I told him I'd be back to visit him and take him to a senior center where he could make some friends," said Porcello, who comes from a big Italian family with a mom, dad, three sisters and a brother.
"I told him I was making him my 'Grandpa,' and if he liked, he could spend Thanksgiving with my family. Eddie and I discussed alternating holidays with Gaspar so he wouldn't be alone for any of them."
Two days later Musso was placed in critical care. Porcello asked hospital staff where he'd be buried if he didn't make it. "Potter's Field," said one administrator.
"This infuriated me," said Porcello. "There was no way I was going to let a man who fought for our country be buried in Potter's Field. Not on my watch!"
Porcello told the hospital to keep her apprised of Musso's condition. She had a local priest visit him. Porcello even asked NYPD's Missing Person's Squad to search for next of kin.
Musso had been an only child to Anthony and Marie Musso, both deceased. He had no other relatives. Musso's only friend, an upstairs neighbor, had died the year before.
After his health improved, Musso asked Porcello to become his official health proxy.
She transferred him to Caton Park Nursing Home, where he was treated extremely well. She visited him often, learning that Musso was born May 7, 1924, joined the USMC in December 1943, finished training at Camp Lejune in March 1944 and was fighting with the 2nd Marines on Tinian Island by July 1944.
"I visited Gaspar on Nov. 13, bringing him rosary beads, a Bible, and his reading glasses," she said.
"The next day, Nov. 14, I returned and found Gaspar sitting up in a chair, dressed in his own clothes. Looking great."
Porcello washed his hands and face, trimmed his nails and eyebrows and asked if he was coming to her house for Thanksgiving. "I'm trying!" he said. He also asked Porcello to bring him a Christmas wreath for his room.
The next morning Porcello received a phone call saying that Gaspar Musso had died peacefully in his sleep.
No way was she going to let her good friend be toe-tagged and buried in Potter's Field.
Porcello paid out of her own pocket for a wake at McLaughlin's on Third Ave. and a mass at St. Patrick's Church in Bay Ridge, where a crowd of good-hearted cops from the 68th Precinct filled the pews, six serving as pallbearers. Sgt. Angel Rosa of the 68th, also a Marine, arranged for a USMC honor guard at Musso's funeral.
Then taps blew over Gaspar Musso, United States Marine, as he was buried next to his mother at Resurrection Cemetery in Staten Island.
With the dignity he deserved.
13 January 2009
Damnit! Something in my eye...
Found via Armed Polite Society: