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WWII vet Frank Celentano of Rocky Point

Frank Celentano, a decorated marine who fought for

Frank Celentano, a decorated marine who fought for the islands of Roi and Namur in World War II died last month at 90. Photo Credit: Handout

For most of his life, Frank Celentano, a decorated Marine who fought to take the islands of Roi and Namur in the Marshall Islands during World War II, got along with only his right hand. His left was blown off during a fight with a Japanese soldier when a grenade exploded.

He returned home a hero, and soon after married Eileen Gilmartin, a young woman who worked in a bank. Together, they raised a family of nine children. Though missing a hand, his children hardly considered him handicapped. Of the many jobs he held -- laying brick, moving furniture, painting walls -- most involved manual labor.

Celentano, who lived in Rocky Point for almost half a century, died June 12 after having trouble breathing one night, his son Bob Celentano said. He was 90.

His strengths extended to sports, where, on the handball court, he was king. Neighborhood college kids would line up to challenge the veteran. They were defeated every time, his son recalled.

"I think he died not knowing he only had one hand," said Celentano, 63, of Middle Island. "He said things like, 'I got to go wash my hands,' " or if someone was tossing around a football, " 'Throw it to my hands.' " In 1944, several months after being wounded, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps' second-highest honor for valor, after the Medal of Honor. He also was awarded a Purple Heart. In a ceremony, Adm. Chester Nimitz, then commander of the Pacific Fleet, pinned the cross to Celentano's lapel.

"My father proved that there was no such thing as a handicap," said another son, Jack Celentano, 48, of Rocky Point. "You could never say to my father you can't do something. He'd say 'Improvise, and adapt.' That was a Marine Corps slogan. There was no such thing as you can't do it."

In addition to nine children, Celentano leaves behind more than 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Part of his legacy, his children said, includes teaching great-granddaughter Gabriella about living with a disability. Five years ago, she was born without a hand, the result of amniotic band syndrome.

"When she was born, my dad said, 'Don't let her say she can't do anything,' " said Frank's daughter and Gabriella's grandmother Randy Freund, 50, of Middle Island. "She tries about everything. If you offer her help, she doesn't want help, because she saw what he can do."

Frank Celentano was born in Manhattan in 1922 and grew up on the West Side, later raising his family in Queens. In the mid-1960s, they moved to Rocky Point. One of his favorite spots there was Hallock Landing, where he spent many summers teaching his children how to fish.

"Really the only thing he couldn't do was tie his shoes," she said.

"He wore laced-up shoes, my mother would tie them," remembered Bob Celentano. "He wasn't self-conscious about that, and neither were we."

Celentano also is survived by daughters Carol Schroeder of Wading River and Theresa Celentano of Calverton; sons Tom Celentano of Sound Beach, Frank Celentano of Ridge, Joseph Celentano of Rocky Point and James Celentano of Medford; and sister Gertrude Strohm of Ocala, Fla. Services and burial took place last month.

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