Joseph Scarpello, 95; Phila. official was honored WWII veteran

Posted: December 25, 2011

Joseph Daniel Scarpello, 95, of Northeast Philadelphia, a distinguished World War II veteran and Philadelphia Recreation Department leader, died at home of natural causes Wednesday, Dec. 21.

As a city official for 30 years, Mr. Scarpello ran some of the city's largest playgrounds and recreation centers, and he started annual summer trips for city youth to Dorney Park.

During World War II, he was an officer and naval aviator aboard the cruiser San Jacinto in the Sea of Japan from April 1945 until the end of the war. One of his duties was flying dirigibles.

His unit's heroics from May 19, 1944, to Aug. 15, 1945, earned him a presidential citation, with the right to wear a bronze star and ribbon bar.

"Operating continuously in the most forward areas, the USS San Jacinto and her forward air groups struck crushing blows toward annihilating Japanese fighting power," read a commendation signed in 1946 by then naval secretary James Forrestal.

Further, Forrestal wrote, the San Jacinto provided air cover for amphibious forces, destroyed enemy planes, and inflicted "terrible losses" on Japanese ships.

Born and raised in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Mr. Scarpello graduated from Germantown High School in 1934. He graduated from Pennsylvania State College in 1938 and attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1940.

He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander, serving as an aviator and communications officer aboard various Navy destroyers and aircraft carriers.

While aboard the San Jacinto in the Pacific Theater, he came to know the future President George H.W. Bush.

"Dad was extremely proud to have served on the USS San Jacinto and to have President Bush as a crewmate," said his oldest son, Joseph.

Mr. Scarpello earned the right to wear ribbons signifying service in the America Area, European, and Asiatic-Pacific Theaters. He was honorably discharged in 1954 after serving in the naval reserves.

In 1947, Mr. Scarpello enrolled in the Granoff School of Music at 21st and Chestnut Streets, where he studied piano, graduating in 1950. He led the Townsmen, a five-piece band that played in the Philadelphia area from 1950 to 1958.

At age 41, Mr. Scarpello met Mary Ann Coleman, 20, who had gone to hear him play. They were married 53 years. The couple had 11 children.

One son, Justin, died young of complications arising from cerebral palsy, and Mr. Scarpello inspired an annual golf outing in his memory.

Mr. Scarpello was a district supervisor with Philadelphia's Department of Recreation for 30 years ending in 1978. On retiring, Mayor Frank Rizzo praised him as "a credit to the city."

In later years, Mr. Scarpello played the piano to entertain seniors at recreation and community centers and nursing homes. At 85, he recorded a CD of his greatest piano hits titled No Ordinary Joe.

"Dad loved being around family and friends, enjoyed our large family dinners, entertained us with his piano playing, and was an incredible storyteller - especially his war stories," said his youngest son, Jeremy.

Surviving, besides his wife and two sons, are seven other sons, John, James, Jeffrey, Jerome, Jude, Jason, and Joshua; a daughter, Janine Scarpello DiGioacchino; and a sister, Evelyn Ventresca. Eighteen grandchildren also survive.

A viewing will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 26, at the L.A. DiGiacomo Inc. Funeral Home, 1055 Southampton Rd., Philadelphia. A Funeral Mass will be said at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27, at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, 611 Knowles Ave., Southampton, Pa. A burial with full military honors will follow at Washington Crossing National Cemetery.

Donations may be made to the Justin Scarpello Memorial Fund, c/o United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Philadelphia, 102 E. Mermaid Lane, Philadelphia 19118.


Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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