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Eugene W. Garges, WWII veteran, pilot, dies

Eugene W. Garges was a formal man, befitting his military rank as a major in the Army Air Force and his profession as an airline pilot. He wore a suit to church every Sunday and for all holidays.

But the longtime Manhasset resident also knew when to ease up on the throttle, family said.

At Christmas dinner, his wife, Catherine, decorated her table in the English tradition, with "crackers," small party favors that when pulled open make a popping sound and release a prize and paper crown.

"He'd join in with all of us, this formal, serious man, and wear this paper crown on his head and joke about his silly, worthless prize," said his stepdaughter, Chris Sama, 52, also of Manhasset.

Sama said Garges, who died Sunday of Parkinson's disease at his home at age 92, had a special fondness for his family -- stepchildren and step grandchildren -- which he came by later in his life.

Married three times, Garges' first marriage ended in divorce, and his daughter from the union, Barbara Garges Lalis, formerly of Manhasset, died in 2004, Sama said. His second wife also died during their brief marriage, she said.

Sama said she felt Garges had to wait a long time to find the love of family, so he especially enjoyed the get-togethers and being a grandfather to her two children.

Garges met Sama's mother in 1993, after a mutual friend from Garges' church thought the two would make a good couple. Sama's father had died in 1980, she said, and "my mother wondered if she really should date again. We encouraged her."

Sama said as she learned more about her mother's new husband, she discovered she also had a new friend, one who served as a flight instructor to the Tuskegee Airmen and piloted supplies to starving Germans during the Berlin Airlift at the end of World War II.

"My sister asked him once why had he volunteered to be a flight instructor to the Airmen," Sama said, "and he told her it was always his dream to fly and he did not want that dream denied to anyone else."

After the war, Garges was a pilot for Eastern Airlines from 1947 to 1978, Sama said.

"He really was a brilliant man, a remarkable man," she said.

He is survived by his wife, also of Manhasset; brother Jeff Garges of Toms River, N.J.; sister Marguerite White, of Forest, Va.; stepdaughter Cathy DeFelice, of West Caldwell, N.J.; and two step grandchildren.

Funeral services are 10 a.m. Thursday at Community Reformed Church, Manhasset, followed by burial at the church.

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