Joseph Beekman of Seaford slept on his tenement fire escape as a child to escape the summer heat in Harlem, pounded the streets looking for work during the Great Depression and fought in the Pacific during World War II.
He got a job as an electrician’s apprentice on Long Island after the war, worked hard and lived quietly until his death Thursday at age 102, his family said.
“He was quiet. He believed in God and he believed in hard work,” his son, Richard, of Commack said. “One thing he taught me was how important education was because he never had it.”
“He knew all the capitals of all the states of the union because to pass the post office test back in the 20s and you had to know all that,” his son said.
Joseph Beekman was born in 1913 on East 110th Street in Manhattan into a family of two boys and five girls. He attended school until the ninth grade.
He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era jobs program, in the early 1930s and worked at Bear Mountain State Park and other sites.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1936 and served four years, including three years in China, before being discharged on Jan. 14, 1940.
He was recalled to the Marines on Sept. 26, 1942, fought in the Pacific during World War II and was readying for the invasion of Japan when the war ended.
He got apprentice jobs with the newly created Local 25 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers after the war and worked on the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and many other projects.
“He was a union guy all his life,” his son said. “To him, it saved his life. It gave him a trade.”
He also loved horse racing, and he worked on the renovation of Belmont Racetrack in the 1960s. At the end of construction, he arranged to keep his union card while working at the track until his retirement in 1976.
“He loved that job. He was rewiring the jockeys’ quarters and they all spoke Spanish, so he went to Berlitz and learned Spanish so he could get tips from the jockeys,” his son said.
The family lived in Rockville Centre in the 1940s, and moved to Seaford in 1953. Beekman died at Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack, where he had spent the last two years.
He was predeceased by wives Sonja and Jean and a son, Robert of Garden City.
He is also survived by daughter Barbara Johnson of upstate Warwick and son William of upstate Diamond Point.
The family will receive friends at Commack Abbey Funeral Home from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday. Burial will be Tuesday at Calverton National Cemetery.