A World War II training accident blew away the right hand and both legs of Ralph Marino, a longtime East Meadow resident and advocate for disabled veterans. But the errant mortar shell couldn’t dent Marino’s sense of humor and easygoing determination.
Given a pair of prosthetic limbs and a hook for a hand, Marino was walking again within a year. He could even handle the details of dressing himself, right down to tying his shoes.
“I’ve had to cut down on my drinking, though,” Marino quipped in a 1946 interview with the Long Island Star-Journal. “You get wobbly too quickly on two wooden legs.”
Marino, a Brooklyn native who grew up in Jamaica, Queens, died of natural causes March 7 at his home. An active member of Disabled Veterans of America Chapter 79, in Malverne, Marino was 92.
The Star-Journal article credited him with being the first triple amputee discharged from the Army following WW II. The Army could not immediately confirm that assertion.
Marino was the son of immigrants who arrived from just outside Naples. His father had been a member of the Italian army during World War I.
Inducted into the Army on Halloween, 1944, Marino was 18, and just two months in uniform when a mortar shell exploded near him during his boot camp training at Camp Blanding, Florida. The explosion severed his right hand and sheared off both legs — one of them above the knee. Two months later, his elder brother Paul, an Army paratrooper, was killed in a Japanese artillery barrage in the Philippines.
Two other brothers, Neil and Gene, both deceased, also served in the military during the war.
Marino, who spent the better part of two years recuperating in various hospitals, was honorably discharged in 1946.
He made good on a post-accident promise by teaching himself to dance, and in 1954 married Catherine Cavuto, the sister of a childhood friend. The couple settled in East Meadow, where they raised three children.
A son described Marino as an involved father, who was determined that his children and grandchildren would not be cheated out of physical activities because of his disability.
“Growing up, we had a very normal life, just like any other family,” said son Steven Marino, of Lindenhurst. “He couldn’t run, but he would demonstrate how to swing a bat, or to catch a ball. He’d attend baseball games, dance recitals for his granddaughters. He’d take us on driving vacations to Florida and the Jersey shore.”
He worked for a Hicksville machine shop until he got a job with Nassau County Parks and Recreation in the early 1970s. He was a mail room supervisor when he retired in 1989.
Beginning in the 1970s, as injured Vietnam soldiers filled veterans hospitals, Marino would make regular visits to Walter Reed Medical Center and to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.
In addition to Steven Marino, he is survived by another son, Ralph Marino Jr. of Colleyville, Texas, daughter Karen Marino-Galley, of Smithtown, a brother, Joseph Marino, of Brentwood, and a sister, Carmela Rocco, of New Port Richey, Florida,
A funeral Mass was said March 12 at St. Raphael Parish, a Roman Catholic church in East Meadow. Burial was in St. Charles Cemetery, in East Farmingdale.
Marino often said he considered himself lucky, because his boot camp injuries spared him from being sent into combat with the rest of his platoon mates. He told his children that none of them survived the war.
“Don’t feel sorry for me,” he said in a 1955 interview. “I’m here and I’m alive. A lot of good Joes didn’t make it.”