Lou Covello was surrounded by loving family and friends who gathered to celebrate his 100th birthday at a luncheon at Delancey’s last Saturday.
The party, held two weeks before his actual birthday on Dec. 14, was organized by his daughters, JoAnn Maraglino, Barbara Collorec, and Victoria LaScala. Covello has eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, and most of them were there to celebrate. Nephews he hadn’t seen in a while came from as far away as Spokane, Washington, and Chicago, Illinois.
Because of his poor eyesight, Covello didn’t realize immediately how many people were there.
“As people have been coming over to say hello, he’s shocked,” his daughter Barbara said. "He keeps saying 'Oh, my God.' As they’re saying hello, he’s realizing who is here, and he’s very surprised."
He's a man with a sense of humor, and still sharp at 100.
“In spite of being legally blind, he manages to continue to email stories when he thinks of another experience,” said Barbara. “He loves to read with the help of a magnifier and loves crossword puzzles and Jeopardy.”
Covello enjoyed playing handball from his teens until his late '70s. A diehard Yankees fan, he was presented with a personal letter of congratulation from Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman, which was read aloud at the luncheon.
Married on Pearl Harbor Day
He married the love of his life, Louise, on Dec. 7, 1941 -- the same day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Covello was raised in Manhattan, and when married, he and Louise raised their family in the house Louise’s grandfather built on Zerega Avenue in the Bronx. The family lived there until Louise died at the age of 39. Lou was left to raise two teenagers, JoAnn and Barbara, and one pre-teen, Victoria, by himself. His daughters say he was a wonderful father and role model who raised them well. Eventually his daughters married. He subsequently moved to Parkchester and now lives in Middletown.
Covello was drafted on Feb. 26, 1942, and honorably discharged on Jan. 3, 1946. During World War II, he was a PFC in the Army Signal Corps., 3161st regiment. He spent some time stateside until being deployed to Okinawa in the Pacific Theater. He received a sharpshooter medal, Presidential Citation, World War II Medal, Pacific War Medal, and Okinawa Battle Star for his service.
One day on Okinawa, he stopped by the radio shack and heard that a 10,000 ton bomb was just dropped on Hiroshima.
“When I got back to my barracks and told the others they didn’t believe that there could be a bomb that size,” Covello wrote. "That bomb ended the war."
After the war, Covello worked as a salesman for Morton Salt and for Martinson’s coffee. Before he retired, he worked for the Parkchester development in the Bronx. He worked in the office and enjoyed that job the most, Barbara said.
Several family members and friends spoke or shared reminiscences at the event. Commander Jim Heslop from the American Legion Post 377 said this would be a different world, but for men like Lou. A friend of the family, Carolyn Walsh, wrote a poem about him for the event, “Our Hundred Year Hero,” which Barbara read to him.
'I figured something was up'
Lou is a man of many talents. He is a very good artist who painted and sketched; he drew portraits of his wife and himself, as well as several of famous Hollywood stars of the day. He has written poetry and a number of stories about World War II and family life which his granddaughter, Marissa LaScala, has collected and self-published; the title is “The Selected Works of Louis J. Covello: On the Occasion of His 100th Birthday.” A copy was available at the event for perusal, along with his Army scrapbook.
“He was a wonderful father and I don't know how he and my mother knew so much about raising children before Dr. Spock and Dr. Phil,” daughter JoAnn said. "But we always had a lot of love around us."
Later, Barbara remarked, “I’m overwhelmed, and it’s so fitting for my dad. He’s a simple, humble man, he never wants anyone to make any fuss. He was told the luncheon was just going to be the immediate family. Then when I said to him there might be a few other people, he said to me ‘I’m no dope. I figured something was up.’ But I think he’s very happy to be surrounded by people who love him.”
“Today is so special for my dad — and he’s so honored to have everybody come and honor him like this,” daughter Victoria said. "And to see everybody honor him, it’s an honor for me.”
“I just want to say, I don’t know how my father was the smartest, best, most loving,” said JoAnn said. "How he raised us to do the things we did — besides the swimming, bicycle riding — he was a good man and he taught us how to love and do things in a loving way and I will always treasure that.”
Lou Covello was obviously moved by the attention.
“It’s hard to put into words what a wonderful, wonderful day this has been, and I know a lot of planning went into this and a lot of people came a long way to make this, and I’m glad they could make it and have a good time," he said. "We’re all having a good time.”
Toward the end of the event, everyone joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to Lou before indulging in a birthday cake fit for a once-in-a-hundred-years celebration.
Sailing into Okinawa
Here is an excerpt from one of Lou Covello’s stories about sailing into Okinawa:
As we approached Okinawa, the scene looked like a John Wayne movie. Two battleships were firing their big guns at the island. We were glad when we sailed about 10 miles from the action. Our convoy dropped anchor in the port among about 100 other ships. Immediately we were greeted by a Kamikaze attack. Jap planes were all over. All the anti-aircraft guns opened up. Whenever a plane was shot down, everybody cheered. You’d think we were at a football game. One plane got through but was shot down in flames about 100 feet from our ship. It landed in the see and made a perfect white smoke ring that got larger as it drifted toward the sky. It lasted all day. I’ll never forget this.
Before we disembarked, we were handed pamphlets explaining all the dangers of Okinawa: poisonous snakes, mosquitoes filled with malaria, etc. Everyone was downhearted. I broke the dreary mood by saying, ‘After reading that pamphlet, if a kid with a sling shot came up to our unit, we’d surrender.’ That remark brought on some laughter. We loaded up our gear and crawled over the side of the ship on cargo nets into landing barges that took us to shore. The ship was unloading its cargo. I asked one of the crew members what it was we were carrying. He said the entire hold was filled with 50 tons of dynamite. And we were sleeping on it. It was for the engineers. If a torpedo ever hit us, that would have been it.