When one of the Argenzio children in Baldwin would ask their father about his days as a World War II soldier, he'd brush it off.
"He'd say you really don't want to hear about that," his daughter, Ellen Argenzio Rohrer, of Reston, Va., recalled.
One time, Ellen, was with him as he tinkered in the basement. She pulled from a box an Army knife, with notches on its handle. Almost before she could ask about the knife and before her father could change the subject, it finally hit her.
"It dawned on me then that this guy had a whole other life before I was even born," she said. "He wasn't always just my dad."
Joseph L. Argenzio almost 40 years a Baldwin resident, died Saturday of a heart attack at Mary Washington Hospital, in Fredericksburg, Va.
A winner of two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars who served in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, Argenzio was 82. He also was two days shy of his 17th birthday when he landed on Omaha Beach, making him the youngest American there on D-Day, according to several historical accounts and the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.
In 2008, in recognition of his participation in the invasion of Normandy, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal.
Argenzio lived with his family in Baldwin from 1968 to 1994, when he and his wife, Joan, moved to Locust Grove, Va. He was born in Brooklyn and lied about his age to get into the Army in 1944, he said in a recorded interview with the Virginia Military Institute in 2006.
He said in the interview he used an "ink eradicator" to change the date on his birth certificate to 17, but neither the Marines nor the Navy wanted him. He then tried the Army, after changing his birth date on his baptismal certificate.
"They said, 'Are you serious? You're 18?,' " he recalled in the VMI interview. "I said, 'Oh yeah, definitely.' " Asked when he wanted to leave for training, an obviously eager Argenzio said, "Well, tomorrow is fine."
Argenzio was nicknamed "Brooklyn" by a sergeant at Fort McClellan in Alabama who used him to demonstrate bayonet technique to fellow soldiers. In the VMI interview, Argenzio called it "very good training" and said that it "paid off later on."
Argenzio also told of killing a German soldier with a bayonet at a remote outpost during the Battle of the Bulge.
"In later years, he did open up about what happened in the war," his daughter said. "I think it was because he wanted people to remember what happened and that there were real heroes lying under those white crosses at Normandy."
Argenzio's war experience included the liberation of a concentration camp at Falkenau in then Czechoslovakia and the Rhine Crossing.
The Fredericksburg, Va., Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual award for outstanding volunteer work is named for Argenzio in recognition of his work with a wide variety of civic groups.
He worked for the Department of Defense for 33 years and then the Department of State before retiring in 1984.
He also was an avid golfer, a volunteer firefighter in Baldwin and for years led the Baldwin Fire Department Drum & Bugle Corps, his daughter said.
Besides Rohrer, he is survived by his wife of 61 years, Joan; a sister, Gloria Greifenstein of Staten Island; a son, Peter of Fairfax, Va.; daughters Deborah Dannible of Esperance, N.Y., and Joan Neissing, of Medford; seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A Mass will be celebrated Friday at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Fredericksburg, Va. Internment at Arlington National Cemetery is scheduled for May 18.