A solemn ceremony Sunday to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor held a note of sadness as it was announced that one of the survivors to be honored died the day before.
Michael Montelione, an Army private who was stationed at the Schofield Barracks during Japan's air raid on Dec. 7, 1941, died of natural causes, his son-in-law Robert Chiappone said.
Montelione, of Massapequa, was 95.
Chiappone accepted the accolades for Montelione, whose name was printed in the program alongside those of three fellow Pearl Harbor survivors who were recognized. He had been expected to attend the ceremony.
"He was a good man, a strong man," Chiappone said about Montelione after the observance. "He was 95 years old. He fought until the end."
In several interviews with Newsday spanning the past 13 years, Montelione described the moments through his eyes as the worst attack on U.S. soil until Sept. 11 unfolded.
A radio operator and cryptographer, Montelione was enjoying a second cup of coffee that morning when low-flying Japanese planes began dropping bombs and firing their machineguns from above nearby Wheeler Army Airfield, he said in 2008. One plane flew so close to the ground he said he could see its goggled pilot.
"The pilot wasn't worried about a thing," he said. "The plane that strafed me was so low that I could have hit it with a stone. The Japanese had a picnic that day. They caught us with our proverbial pants down."
Inside the hangar Sunday at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, three other survivors were revered: Richard Abeles, who was stationed on the USS Dale; Gerard Barbosa, on the USS Raleigh; and Seymour Blutt, at Hickam Field. They donned military regalia as they accepted certificates of recognition.
After the nearly 90-minute event, a plane carrying 73 roses -- 72 red and one white in memory of 9/11 -- took off from next-door Republic Airport on its way to the Statue of Liberty for the annual Dropping of the Roses.
"We do have a responsibility to remember," Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) said. "Dec. 7, 1941, the greatest generation was forged through that one singular event."
A member of the Nassau-Suffolk Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Montelione often met with other Long Island survivors for events such as an annual Veterans Day breakfast. The group traveled to Hawaii at least six times for ceremonies marking the anniversary of the attack, Montelione's daughter, Dolores Chiappone, of East Meadow said.
The chapter is now down to just two men, Chiappone said.
"He was a good provider for his family and he loved to travel," she said of her father, who was married for 60 years to Ida Montelione before she died eight years ago. The couple had two children, Chiappone and Gary Montelione, of Pennsylvania; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Visiting hours at the Chapey & Sons Funeral Home in Bethpage will be Tuesday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m. A funeral Mass will be offered Wednesday at Maria Regina Roman Catholic Church in Seaford at 9:45 a.m. He will be buried at St. Charles/Resurrection Cemetery in East Farmingdale.