The fans who booed Joe Bilello when he officiated at high school baseball and basketball games probably didn't realize that the Oceanside resident had faced much worse than the occasional Bronx cheer.
Bilello, who died Wednesday, had waded through blood-red waters in the World War II battle of Tarawa Atoll. Fighting in the Pacific Ocean island chain in 1943 claimed more than 1,000 U.S. lives.
Bilello, a Marine corporal, survived the battle and returned home, where he became a New York City police officer and raised 10 children. Bilello died from natural causes at Stony Brook University Hospital. He was 93.
Recalling Tarawa in 1993 for a Newsday story, Bilello remembered walking through chest-high water for 500 yards.
"The blue Pacific turned out to be the red sea," he said.
Salvatore Joseph Bilello was born on March 9, 1922, in Brooklyn, and graduated from Boys High School in Brooklyn and Seton Hall University. After the war, Bilello met fellow Brooklynite Marguerite Ann Flaherty, whom he married in 1948. They moved to Oceanside in 1960. Marguerite Bilello died in 1995.
Joe Bilello was a police officer for 25 years, retiring in 1976. He also was a physical education teacher at parochial schools in Oceanside, Hewlett, Cedarhurst and Long Beach, and he officiated Nassau County high school baseball, basketball, football, soccer and softball games for decades.
He was an active member of St. Anthony's parish in Oceanside, the Knights of Columbus, Veterans of Foreign Wars in Oceanside, the American Legion in Baldwin and the Marine Corps League in Lynbrook.
"He was always on the move, always doing something," said his son John of Port Jefferson Station.
In addition to John, Bilello is survived by sons Joseph of Highland Park, New Jersey, Darrell of Smithtown, Michael of Oceanside, and James of Lynbrook; daughters Marguerite Correia of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, Deirdre Dutka of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Sharon Utegaard of Tucson, Arizona, Regina Bilello of Oceanside and Joanne Critelli of Huntington; sisters Bertha Hannigan of West Islip and Helen Scipione of Nesconset; 21 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Visiting hours are 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Towers Funeral Home in Oceanside. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10:45 a.m. Monday at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside. Burial will follow at St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens.