Purple Heart Comes Posthumously to WWI Soldier, Thanks to Local Man With Heart

By MARIA SCANDALE | Nov 21, 2018

Little did John Pescatore know the face that caught his eye in the portrait when he was 17 would fixate his attention later until he helped claim the World War I medals the man deserved. Guiseppe (Joseph) Lorino was one of the countless who was born in Europe (Nov. 10, 1889, on the island of Salina off the coast of Sicily), immigrated to America and died back on the European continent in wartime service to the United States. He was one of too many whose family never received his Purple Heart or other citations. He died from battle wounds on a farmstead in France, just 20 days before the war’s end.

On the 100th anniversary of World War I, the recognition was delivered at St. Mary of the Pines Church by a Manahawkin resident, Pescatore, the husband of the man’s late niece – but not before an entwining series of events unfolded.

“The story starts, for me anyway, in 1961,” said Pescatore, a retired Bergen County police officer who served from 1965 to 2000. He is a past grand knight, Knights of Columbus, and a member of the Fourth Degree and Color Corps commander for the Knights of Columbus for the parishes of St. Mary’s of Barnegat, St. Theresa’s and St. Francis of Assisi parishes.

“I was 17 years old, and I was going steady with a 15-year-old girl. She had arrived in the United States from the island of Salina when she was 9 years old, to America with her parents,” Pescatore began.

“I was lucky enough to be invited to their house for a Sunday meal, and as you know with an Italian family, Sunday meal usually starts at about 11 o’clock in the morning and ends later in the evening. She took me for a tour of the house, and in the living room was a photograph of a World War I soldier.

“He was standing in front of a tent with the American flag and the Italian flag on either side of him. I asked her, ‘Who is that?’ and she stated, ‘It’s my uncle, my father’s brother, but I don’t know much about him other than that he was killed near the end of World War I. I don’t even know his name.’”

At that time it was interesting to him, but he was more interested in the 15-year-old girl, whom he married three years later.

Years passed, and the couple received the photograph of that soldier after the girl’s parents passed away.

“On or about the year 2000, while gazing at that photograph again, not knowing anything about the individual other than the last name, Lorino, I decided to sit before a computer and do some research,” Pescatore said. “The information I received over the World Wide Web was phenomenal.”

The fascination continued, and in 2006 a coincidence occurred, as if to show confirmation that the research was not for nothing. It happened when the Pescatores went to a graduation party at the Black River Barn in Randolph, N.J.

“My wife left the table and went to get some coffee from an urn that was against the wall. I watched her walk up to it, start to get her coffee, and then stop,” Pescatore recounted.

Wondering what was going on, he approached her and asked what was the matter.

“And my wife, Josephine, said, ‘My uncle is looking at me.’”

He continued, “She pointed to a photograph in back of the coffee urn. It was 3 feet long, 1 foot deep and contained hundreds and hundreds of World War I soldiers and was marked Camp Dix, New Jersey, 1918.

“I said, ‘Well, how did you find him?’ She said, ‘I didn’t. I looked up and he was staring at me; he found me.’

“When we approached the restaurant owner to ask him where he got the photo, he said, ‘I have no idea. Take it with you.’”

*   *   *

What Pescatore learned about the man was read aloud at a service at St. Mary of the Pines on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Thirty-two members of Lorino’s family were in attendance.

Eleven years after he began his life in America in Passaic, operating a candy store with his brother, Joseph Lorino enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard on Nov. 1, 1917, and re-enlisted March 30, 1918, into the U.S  Army. He was assigned out of Camp Dix to Co. B 312 Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division.

“According to a letter dated 1919, stating eyewitness accounts, Joseph was wounded at Talma Farm 2 miles out of Grandpre, France, on Oct. 16 and died of his wounds Oct. 22, 1918,” Pescatore found, “just 20 days before the war’s end on Nov. 11.”

The battle on the 16th was for a farmhouse and the surrounding Talma Hill, both of which were heavily fortified with German machine guns. An early-morning fog that day allowed the 78th Division to advance and capture the farmhouse, but it also cloaked a deadly enemy.

“When the fog later lifted, the enemy machine guns and artillery in the surrounding hillside opened up on our troops,” Pescatore said.

Many of the wounded could not be evacuated until the 22nd. It was in this action that Joseph was wounded and eventually succumbed to his wounds on Oct. 22.

He now rests in Plot A, Row 01, Grave 40 in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France. In 2013, Pescatore’s wife joined her uncle in heaven after her five-year battle with cancer, one week before the couple’s 50th anniversary.

*   *   *

Lorino was qualified to receive the U.S. Army Purple Heart and the World War I U.S. Victory Medal With Silver Wound Honorable Discharge Button; the WWI New Jersey Victory Medal; and the Italian WWI Interallied Victory Medal. Obtaining the medals was a trial because they could only be given to an immediate member of the family. There were none.

Pescatore reached out to two congressmen, Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.-9th Dist.), and Tom MacArthur R-N.J.3rd Dist.), who wrote letters on his behalf, but were denied.

“Two of them tried to get the medals – it was about five years apart – and both of them had the Army send me a letter saying he deserved them,” Pescatore said, “but they could not issue them because, according to Army regulations, the only ones who could ask for it was a mother and father, his brothers or sister – they’re all gone – and a wife – he never married – or children. None of them were available to request the medals.”

The only way the medals could be obtained is if they were purchased privately. Donations made that happen.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Knights of Columbus, in recognition of his Catholic faith; UNICO (National Italian Foundation Chapter, Passaic, N.J.) in recognition of his heritage; and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post of Passaic in recognition of his sacrifice on the battlefield for his adopted country, PFC Lorino is posthumously recognized today,” Pescatore said.

Thirty-two members of Lorino’s family, among others, witnessed the service on the 11th day of the 11th month, at the 11th hour, 100 years after his death.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” Pescatore reflected later.

Three nephews accepted the medals: John Lorino and Anthony Lorino of Garfield; and Victor Lorino of Booton, a Vietnam veteran. All three nephews were born in Private Lorino’s home village and immigrated to America in the 1950s.

Asked how he felt to have accomplished his 20-year mission to see the man recognized, Pescatore replied, “It was tiresome, aggravating, very fulfilling.”

He mused on “starting off with just a photograph and a last name, happening a hundred years ago, being able to get all this information.”

A fire in the 1950s destroyed medical records that might have told exactly what wounded the soldier and eventually killed him. That “I will never find out,” Pescatore said, though realizing that could be information the family really does not need.

As late as three weeks before the Veterans Day service this year, information was still coming in – incredible pictures of the battle scene.

Pescatore had posted a picture of the soldier’s cross at the cemetery in France on his Facebook page and on a World War I Facebook page.

“The next day I received an e-mail from a Frenchman who stated that Talma Farm, where Joseph was killed, had been in his family way back, for centuries. He stated that on the day of the battle, residing in that farmhouse was his grandmother, age 16, and her two sisters, age 14 and 12. They had been in that farmhouse with the German occupation for four years.

“His grandmother stated that all three of the girls, after the battle, removed the soldiers from the field and dug holes and placed them in graves in the back of the barn. They placed wooden crosses at each grave site and nailed the dog tags onto each cross.

“After the end of the war, 20 days later, the American soldiers returned and recovered the bodies from the temporary gravesite and transported them to the American cemetery in France,” Pescatore concluded.

Research is still not over for Pescatore on behalf of some of Lorino’s fellow soldiers. Pescatore said he got a phone call from a historian in Passaic who is sending him names of eight other soldiers killed in World War I.

“Now I’m going to attempt to find out by using those names if I can see if any of them was killed with Joseph and are buried with him in the Argonne cemetery,” he said. “Maybe their family has no idea where they’re buried and how they died. And to have pictures of the farm and its history, they will learn themselves what happened to their relatives.”

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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