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Joseph Ammirati, American Legion commander, dies

Joseph C. Ammirati, a World War II veteran who spent entire days selling poppies outside churches to raise money for his Catholic War Veterans Post, died June 1 of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 91.

Ammirati, of Holliswood, Queens, was an active member of the Catholic War Veterans for more than a decade and prolific fundraiser for his post, St. Anne's 185, in Bellerose.

"He would come back completely sunburned," said his daughter, Barbara Ammirati, 53, of Roslyn Harbor. "But he was definitely their bestseller."

Ammirati's family said the key to his success was his charm.

"He took great pride in taking the time out to sell poppies," said his son, Joe Ammirati, 66, of Atlanta. "He'd be out there in his wheelchair, with his American Legion hat on, selling poppies."

The fundraiser takes place once a year for a few days around Memorial Day, when veterans traditionally hand out poppies to commemorate those who died in World War I, said Edward Farrell, the post's commander.

The money helps veterans in need and also is donated to churches and parades and used for scholarships.

"He sold three times as much as I did," Farrell said. "He would never give up. He never got discouraged. I wish I had 10 men like him at the post."

Ammirati served in the Army from 1942 until his honorable discharge in 1944.

"He was extremely patriotic," his son said. "He felt that we had a great country that gave everyone a great opportunity."

Ammirati joined the American Legion in 1992, a year before the death of his wife, Phyllis. They were married for almost 51 years. He was her primary caregiver for her final five years, his daughter said.

After his wife died, Ammirati became highly involved with the American Legion. He was commander of Post 301 in Queens Village from 1997 to 1999, when his family advised him to take a break, and took the reins again last year until his death.

"He was very, very proud of that," said his daughter. "He wanted to do it for all those years, but he was trying to step back because it was very intellectually and physically challenging."

During his 10-year break, Ammirati continued to be an active member and served as post chaplain, in charge of directing veteran funeral services.

He also traveled several times to California, Tennessee, Kansas and Georgia to spend time with his grandchildren.

"He was full of life. Right up until the day he died, you would have never thought that the end was near," his son said. "He always seemed much younger than his age."

Besides his son and daughter, Ammirati is survived by three other children, Linda Casolaro of Center Moriches, Diana Ammirati of Farmingdale, and Christine Mahar of Spanish Fort, Ala. He is also survived by six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was offered on June 5 at the Incarnation Church in Queens Village.

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