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Daniel De Francisco dies; WWII vet was 94

Daniel De Francisco at a Memorial Day ceremony

Daniel De Francisco at a Memorial Day ceremony in Riverhead in 2014. Credit: RiverheadLOCAL/Denise Civiletti

Daniel De Francisco witnessed the death of a friend during the desperate landing at Normandy in World War II. Months later, his leg was riddled with shrapnel during the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. He slogged through the crippling snows that mired the Battle of the Bulge.

But the Brooklyn native, who moved to Riverhead after he retired as a Garment District tailor in 1986, left the war behind him once he returned home, said his widow, Evelyn.

“We were married 64 years in February — never spoke about it” until his last years, she said, hours after his burial Tuesday at Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton.

De Francisco, who had been one of only two World War II veterans remaining at Riverhead Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2476, died Sunday at Peconic Bay Medical Center. He was 94.

“He meant a lot to us,” said Joe Edler, 74, who was the VFW’s post commander when De Francisco joined in 2012. 

“He would come out to do the poppy fundraisers, and I couldn’t get him to go home even when it was cold,” Edler said. “But two years ago, he slowed down a lot and couldn’t make it anymore.”

He grew up as a member of a sprawling family that lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and served in the Army from 1943 until 1945.

After the war, he was working as a sewing machine operator in a Manhattan clothing factory when a friend asked him to come to Woodland Beach, a summer bungalow colony on Staten Island. He met Evelyn Miller there, and they were married in 1955. They settled in Flatbush, where they lived until he retired.

De Francisco became active as an usher St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Riverhead, where he was sometimes referred to as “the mayor of the 11 o’clock Mass.” He was known to quiet crying children by slipping them lollipops during services.

It was at the church that he met Edler, who after learning of De Francisco’s wartime service persuaded him to join the VFW, and helped him apply for wartime medals he had never received. Edler said they included the Purple Heart and the French Légion d'Honneur.

De Francisco is also survived by a sister, Gloria Rye of Mississippi, and by several nieces and nephews. 

A funeral was held Tuesday at St. John the Evangelist.

Lollipops were distributed as guests filed from the sanctuary, his wife said. Three were placed in his coffin.

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