In later years, Mr. Messa's stories about his experiences were so varied that "people who didn't know him thought he was making them up," said his son, Joseph L. Jr.
A graduate of La Salle College High School, Mr. Messa enlisted in the Merchant Marine. He served in North Africa and Italy during World War II. In 1956, he re-entered military service as a chief petty officer in the Coast Guard. He helped supervise construction of the Coast Guard base in Philadelphia.
In 1972, Mr. Messa enrolled in night classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law while working full-time as a right-of-way specialist and appraiser for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. He would take the train to Baltimore and return to Philadelphia after midnight. Mr. Messa passed the bar in 1976, fulfilling a dream to be a lawyer.
Elected leader in 1962 of the 59th Ward in Germantown, he served for 50 years. He also was secretary-treasurer for the Republican City Committee.
Mr. Messa retired from the state Department of Transportation in 1991, but continued to handle appraisals and legal work out of Messa Realty. He volunteered for the Coast Guard Auxiliary until age 88.
Mr. Messa was a member of the Lions Club, Optimist Society, and Sons of Italy - Ernest M. Strollo Lodge, and a fourth-degree member of the Knights of Columbus.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, the former Virginia Ciaffoni; another son, Paul E.; four grandchildren; and a brother and sister.
A Funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, March 14, at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, 437 Ridge Pike, Lafayette Hill. Viewings are set for Thursday, March 13, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Friday from 10 to 11 a.m. at the church. Burial is in George Washington Memorial Park.
Donations may be made to the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Box 302, Maryknoll, N.Y. 10545.