Thomas J. Manfuso Sr. was a son of Italian immigrants who helped his family deliver groceries in the Bronx from a horse-drawn cart.
He was in the Army Air Forces in World War II, serving in the Aleutian Islands. He used the GI Bill to learn about radiography - or X-ray technology - and went to Venezuela to launch a career in his new field.
He ended up in South Hempstead, where he built a comfortable life for himself and his young family.
Manfuso died of heart illness Sunday at a son's Fort Salonga home. He was 86.
"My father lived the typical Greatest Generation story," said his son, T.J. Manfuso, 57, of Cold Spring Harbor. "He was an urban kid and my mom was from a one-horse town in Louisiana. Military service introduced them both to a much bigger world than they ever thought possible."
As a boy, Manfuso delivered groceries for his parents' Bronx store for tips. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School and then went into the Army Air Forces from 1943 to 1945, his son said. He was an airplane gunner, fighting Japanese forces that in 1942 had landed on two remote islands.
Manfuso later told family that neither pilots, navigators nor bombers could perform their jobs without him. When his family would ask why he was so important, he'd say, "Because I washed the windows," relating one of his duties as a gunner.
T.J. Manfuso said his father was affable, with a "tremendous sense of humor. That generation seemed to share that trait. He taught us how to laugh through adversity. He always was clowning around."
After his discharge, Manfuso used the GI Bill to get a certificate from New York Hospital's radiography school. The only work he could find in his new field was overseas, with Standard Oil at Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela in 1949.
There he met his future wife, Helen Myers, of Jennings, La., then a navy nurse. The two married in 1952, had three children in Venezuela and moved to South Hempstead in 1958.
T.J. Manfuso said his parents loved Venezuela. His father developed a passion for golf there, playing with friends from Standard's company compound in desert conditions.
He left Standard Oil to work for Pan Am at Idelwild Airport's medical center. He later was chief of radiography at Mercy Hospital, now Mercy Medical Center, in Rockville Centre and at St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill.
In addition to his son T.J., Manfuso is survived by a son, Paul Manfuso, of Fort Salonga; a daughter, Emilie Aebi, of Manhattan; and three grandchildren. His wife died in 1996.
Visiting is Wednesday at Macken Mortuary, Rockville Centre. A funeral mass will be celebrated 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre, followed by burial at Calverton National Cemetery.