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Students from P.S. 108 learn about history from veterans who experienced it

Veterans museum inside Dormi & Sons Funeral Home

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History takes on a whole new life inside one local funeral home.

John Dormi & Sons Funeral Home, at 1121 Morris Park Avenue, has one feature setting it apart from all others.

Inside the lobby are display cases housing various military artifacts hailing from all the WWII combatants. Joe Garofalo, 94, is the curator of this room-sized museum. A WWII veteran, Garofalo was a petty officer second class for the Navy’s Seabees attached to the fourth Marine Division. He fought and participated in three invasions in the South Pacific theater.

“I had good times and bad times,” shared Garofalo. “But some of my best times were in the service.”

On Friday, October 24, students from P.S. 108 visited this museum. Eagerly, they viewed each exhibit, carefully handeled various military artfacts, and listened intently to real-life accounts from veterans. Garofalo; Albert Maza, WWII army civil core; and Jeremy Warneke; district manager of Community Board 11, an Iraq War veteran, shared their stories to the fifth graders who clung to every word and asked many questions throughout.

Maza served in Alaska during the war. Back then, ‘the Last Frontier’ was a vital air force location for personnel, aircrafts, and airfields while providing Russia aid under the our government’s Lend-Lease policy.

“They had a lot of civilians working there,” explained Maza. “They had two paved runways, 10,000 feet and 8,000 feet. At that time, they were the longest paved runways in the world because we had B-29s coming up, but then they switched down to the South Pacific.”

Each item on display has a story to tell. Garofalo pointed out some unusual and fascinating pieces including Japanese hari-kari knives, a pair of Nazi motorcyclist gloves, as well as various hand grenades.

One such item is a knife retrieved from a downed Kamikaze pilot which had its brass knuckle-like handle forged from the destroyed plane’s propeller blade.

For over 70 years, Garofalo has held onto one item, a compact stove, small enough to fit inside a pocket. Soldiers used it to heat up their food or drink while out in the field.

Everyone in attendance revealed what Friday’s experience meant.

“It’s a great way to honor the veterans and show the kids this is the reason why we have our freedom,” explained Michael Tierney, custodian engineer at P.S. 157 and formerly of P.S. 108. “We owe it to people like Al and Joe.”

“Today we learned a lot about the firsthand artifacts we saw, the children were able to ask questions to veterans who served in World War II in the Pacific and in Alaska,” said Lisa Billingsley, fifth grade teacher at P.S. 108. “We also had a veteran from the Iraq War, so they were able to compare and contrast how things were many years ago as opposed to modern day soldiering.”

“I was thankful that we had the time to meet the veterans,” said Thomas, 10.

“It was a great experience to come here because I got to learn about what they did in World War II, how they did it, and when,” said Andrew, 10.

Tierney revealed this was the third class to have participated in this event.

Garofalo explained the museum had been turned down by several institutions before they finally found a home at Dormi’s.

Donations totaling $2,000 went toward purchasing the display cases. Garofalo and Maza contributed some of their own funds as well. Periodically, Garofalo and others contribute items for the collection, some of which he finds at gun shows.

“Let the children be aware of what we went through,” expressed Garofalo. “The kids find it very interesting and they actually absorb a lot. It’s very gratifying. They won’t forget, they’ll go home and tell their parents all about it.”

Posted 12:00 am, November 2, 2014
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