For over 15 years, a veteran museum in the Bronx has stood as a reminder of those who have fought to protect and serve our country.
The Bronx Veteran’s Museum, located within John Dormi & Sons Funeral Home at 1121 Morris Park Avenue, a room-sized museum that houses various artifacts from World War II, serves as a real life history lesson for younger generations and a reminiscent walk down memory lane for our country’s veterans.
The museum, which was founded and is currently curated by 95-year old veteran Joseph Garofalo since 1999, includes various donated World War II items, including weapons, hats, jackets, badges, comics, pictures, books and documents that depict a nation at war in the late 1930s and early to mid-1940s.
Weapons, which are enclosed in a glass case, include knives, swords and bullets.
One of the knives, which includes four holes for finger gripping, was made from a propeller of a Japanese aircraft that was shot down during the war.
Many of the items were donated by Garofalo himself.
Many of the framed comics on the museum’s wall were drawn by the late cartoonist and newspaper columnist Bill Gallo, a World War II vet who fought during the battles of Saipan and Tinian on the Mariana Islands and during the Battle of Iwo Jima on the Volcano Islands.
Gallo actually fought with Garofalo during the battles of Saipan and Tinian while they were in the 20th regiment of the 4th Marine Division, also known as the ‘Fighting 4th’.
Years later, they eventually reconnected and would occasionally convene to discuss war stories and memories.
The museum includes one item that is not WWII related – a travel bayonet from the Civil War.
Garofalo, a second class petty officer for the Navy’s Seabees of the 4th Marine Division who also fought in the Battle of Kwajalein, remembered various instances from the war while talking about the museum.
“There were a lot of close calls,” said Garofalo. “For example, I was very close to being attacked by a Japanese person running towards me who detonated a hand grenade above his head – luckily, he fell and received most of the blow.
“There was also a time when, from 40 yards away, about 200 Japanese people charged to attack about 60 of us. Fortunately, we were able to defeat all of them.”
Garofalo also recalled the harsh living conditions when fighting overseas, such as booby traps, food rations, food poisoning and sickness.
“When I had Dengue Fever (which is similar to Malaria), I truly thought that I was going to die,” he said. “My own buddies had to cover me with sandbags to keep me cool.” Garofalo eventually spent two weeks in a Saipan hospital.
In 1994, Garofalo went back to the Mariana Islands for World War II’s 50 year anniversary, where he was greeted and welcomed by island locals who showed their appreciation for him.
“America is a great country,” said Garofalo. “The Japanese really treated the natives on those islands terribly when they tried to take over and it was clear that the natives where thankful for the job that we had done. We (America) will help any country in a bad situation, and this museum is proof of that.”
The museum also hosts annual events for the students of P.S. 108, who are able to ask questions to veterans during Q&As and gain knowledge about their county’s history.
“They (those events) are very beneficial for the students that visit the museum,” said Jeremy Warneke, district manager of nearby Community Board 11 and an Iraq War Veteran, who was at last year’s event with Garofalo and Earl Menard, a Vietnam vet.
“It’s a great learning experience in a very interesting place.”
Dormi & Sons Funeral Home houses the museum for free. The museum is also sponsored by the American Legion.