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Peter J. Ciulla dead at 90; ex-Grumman engineer served in WWII

Peter J. Ciulla, 90, died at his North

Peter J. Ciulla, 90, died at his North Bellmore home on Feb. 9, 2017. He served as a Navy radio operator in the Philippines during World World II and spent about 17 years as an engineer at Grumman Aerospace. Credit: Ciulla family

Thinking back to Long Islanders who came of age in the 1940s, Peter J. Ciulla and his wife, Muriel, appear to fit right in with the traditional image.

Sweethearts at Freeport High School, Ciulla played football and was named “smoothest male,” in part for his impeccable dressing, with his future wife named prom princess, said their son Thomas Ciulla, 64, of North Bellmore.

With World War II raging, his father left school a little early, enlisting in the Navy and serving as a radio operator in the Philippines, his son said. He then returned to the Island, marrying in 1949, raising a family and working in the aerospace industry.

After a life of service, family outings and eating ice cream just about every day, Peter Ciulla died Feb. 9 at age 90 in his North Bellmore home from what his son believes to have been complications from an eye infection. His wife, who was a 1945 Freeport High School graduate, according to her son, died in 2013 after 63 years of marriage.

Born in Brooklyn on Jan. 5, 1927, Ciulla moved with his family soon afterward to Rockville Centre, then later to Freeport.

Peter Ciulla was an optimist, fun-loving and family oriented, as well as mild-mannered, but “also just as tough as nails,” said his son. “It’s how they built them in those days.”

Refraining from sharing war stories, Ciulla also steered clear of talking of his work as an electrician, eventually working on the likes of F-105 Thunderchief fighter planes at the then-Republic Aviation in Farmingdale, his son said.

That applied, too, to his later work as an engineer on the E-2C Hawkeye radar patrol plane at Grumman Aerospace in Bethpage, his son said, after getting on-the-job training with another employer, as well as computer training.

One story his father did tell was of an encounter with Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who on a visit to Republic asked his dad how many aircraft he wired in a day. “I’ve been working on this one for six months,” was his father’s answer.

Asked what his dad would most want to be remembered for, his son said without hesitation, “Being my mother’s husband.” It was that kind of happy marriage, Thomas Ciulla said, with never a curse word uttered and barely even a raised voice.

Ciulla was “such a family guy,” said his other son, Brian Ciulla, 62, of Bay Shore, speaking of the household’s stability and basics his father practiced: “To do the right thing and be loyal to your commitments.” “We always got a positive influence from him,” he said.

Ciulla retired in 1989 after about 17 years at Grumman. Afterward, he and his wife were active, traveling to places like Europe and Egypt, and cruising on the Queen Mary 2. An avid gardener, he was also a music aficionado, amassing case after case of record albums, Thomas Ciulla said, with a special interest in show tunes, string orchestras and the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

He’s also survived by a sister-in-law, Celia Ciulla of Merrick, and four nieces and nephews.

Graveside services were held Feb. 13 at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, followed by burial.

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