Joe “Josey” Giacalone often said his experience in the 1940s as a Jones Beach lifeguard was “a big part of the best time of my life.”
Over the decades, a golden bracelet bearing his name — identifying him as a lifeguard — became a treasured heirloom.
This is the story of how it was nearly lost forever, only to return to the family after a number of strangers pitched in.
The tale begins when Giacalone of Queens and teenage beach buddies Jamie “Jamesy” Greaney, Al “Fuzzy” Fasnacht and Robert “Bubsey” Moran all became lifeguards.
“They were a young, strong and wild crew,” the Giacalone family said. The foursome “worked most shifts together, crashed at each other’s homes . . . and each of their moms packed huge lunches for them.”
They were inseparable — until World War II.
Giacalone joined the Navy in 1942, became a fighter pilot and flew combat missions in the Pacific, the family said. After surviving the war, he rejoined the Jones Beach lifeguard crew in 1946.
That’s when he got the official bracelet: stamped in front with “Jones Beach Patrol” and “Life Guard,” his first initial and last name, and the state seal. The date was printed on the back.
Giacalone went on to graduate from Hofstra University and earn a master’s in business administration at Harvard in 1951. He spent his career with one firm, St. Louis, Missouri-based Container Corporation of America, retiring as vice president of sales, the family said.
Though he was not one to wear jewelry in his later years, the Jones Beach bracelet remained with him always.
After his death on Aug. 30, 2015, an adoring granddaughter, Ashley Cosgriff, asked if one day, when her grandmother could bear to part with it, she might have it.
To her grandmother, Sandra Giacalone, it seemed like the perfect birthday gift. In February 2016, she mailed the bracelet, along with a $50 bill and a card, to Cosgriff, who is in marketing and lives in Bozeman, Montana.
But when the package arrived, the seal was broken, and the box was torn and empty.
The damaged box had made it as far as a Montana post office. Workers there located Cosgriff, and delivered it anyway — so she’d know someone had tried to mail her something.
Cosgriff, learning the gift had been sent from Florida, knew it had come from her grandmother, but their attempts to locate the contents went nowhere.
“It was kind of a dead end,” Cosgriff, 25, recalled in a recent interview.
Though the card and cash never turned up, unbeknownst to the family, a postal worker in Montana a few weeks later had found the bracelet. Observing the New York seal and Jones Beach stamp, the worker forwarded it to the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in Albany.
Richard Alden, the agency’s director of water safety, initially was mystified by the bracelet, now more than 70 years old.
He turned to current Jones Beach lifeguards for help.
Bruce Meirowitz, president of the state lifeguards union, and fellow lifeguards Richard Malen and Jim Rooney did the legwork, tracking down the Giacalone family.
Sandra Giacalone and her husband had retired to Naples, Florida. The lifeguards turned up a telephone number — and an obituary for Joe. A little hesitantly, Malen telephoned the widow in March.
“By any chance are you related to Joe Giacalone?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she said.
Relieved, Malen explained that he had the bracelet.
Giacalone was stunned. “Oh my God, you found that?”
And then she cried.
“I just could not talk with those men without bursting into tears,” she recalled. “They just touched me so.” Applauding the efforts by so many strangers, she added: “The fact that they bothered is what really sort of renewed my confidence in human beings.”
To Cosgriff, now the keeper of the bracelet, its strange journey reminds her of one of her grandfather’s “funny tales.”
“It couldn’t have gotten to me easily,” she said, imagining Giacalone telling her with a twinkle in his eye: “You’ll get it eventually.”
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Jamie “Jamesy” Greaney.