John "Red" Pelan, a Korean War paratrooper whose late-in-life desire to jump again inspired the annual "Reckless with Red" skydiving fundraiser benefiting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, died Thursday at a Port Washington hospice.
The New Hyde Park resident had been treated for cancer, the family said. He was 83.
In 2008, Pelan told his granddaughter, Darah Salmaggi, that he wanted to go skydiving for his 77th birthday. She turned the event into a fundraiser, at which volunteers -- many of whom had never sky-dived before -- parachute to raise money for programs helping Long Island veterans cope with post-traumatic stress.
Salmaggi said the Calverton event, held every second Saturday in June, has raised about $100,000 for Veterans Health Alliance of Long Island in the seven years since her grandfather took his birthday dive. "This was very personal for him because a good friend of the family had come back [from Iraq] and was really suffering," said Salmaggi, 31, of Ronkonkoma.
"Pop took him under his arm and was a source of comfort for him and really helped him get better," she said. "But he realized PTSD is a national problem."
A native of the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, he enlisted in 1950 and landed in Korea a year later with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team.
An affable man who liked cooking and golf, the family said he'd insist his baldness was because his hair was shot off while he was descending over the Korean Peninsula.
He married Sheila Melia on July 3, 1953, three days after his return to Brooklyn, and began a family with eight children. The family resettled in New Hyde Park, and he worked as an elevator installer and later as an NYPD officer. He retired with the rank of detective in 1973, but continued as a private detective until 1995.
He coached baseball and basketball with the Notre Dame Catholic Youth Organization in New Hyde Park long after his own children were grown.
In addition to his wife, survivors are sons Jimmy and Barney, both of Mattituck; John of Commack; Stephen of East Meadow; Jerry of New Hyde Park and Darren of Lake Ronkonkoma; daughters Mary Bridget Salmaggi of Ronkonkoma and Colette McCauley of Bangor, Maine; 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Visiting is Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Weigand Bros. Funeral Home in Williston Park.
The funeral service will be held Monday at Notre Dame Catholic Church in New Hyde Park. Interment will be at Calverton National Cemetery.