Pancrazio "Frank" Arcidiacono was home for the holidays when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He immediately flew back to the naval base in Hawaii, where he had been stationed for about a year, grandson Shawn Richichi recalled.
Japan had pushed the U.S. into World War II. In the years that followed, Arcidiacono flew many missions across the South Pacific in PBY Catalina seaplanes.
A radio operator and gunner, he fought in the Battle of Midway and took part in many other campaigns, including Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Guam and Guadalcanal, his relatives said. He received two Distinguished Flying Cross medals for his role in sinking a couple of Japanese cruisers, Richichi said.
The Winter Park resident died Wednesday from congestive heart failure. He was 89
Born in Sicily, Arcidiacono had moved to the U.S. when he was about a year old. His family passed through Ellis Island and settled in Fulton, N.Y., where he worked on a relative's farm. His family later moved to Ohio, where he enlisted in the Navy at 19.
"He wanted to go to college, but his mother said he needed to get a job. So he joined the Navy," said daughter Andrea Konsler of Fern Park. Arcidiacono's father also influenced him: The elder man had served in the Italian Navy, Konsler said.
After two decades in the U.S. Navy, Arcidiacono retired as a chief petty officer. He then worked for years at the Naval Training Device Center in Port Washington, N.Y., and later was transferred to the Naval Training Equipment Center in Orlando.
He helped develop a harness device to prevent officers from drowning after they landed on water, his grandson said. Arcidiacono found out many naval officers were dying because they couldn't quickly unhook themselves from their parachutes, which were dragging them underwater.
"His life was the Navy. When he left the Navy, his life was to help the Navy [officers] stay alive," said Richichi, who lives in Maitland.
Richichi remembers as a boy taking frequent walks around Winter Park with his grandfather. Richichi said his grandfather loved to tell stories about the war and Navy, as much as he loved to make homemade wine and sing old Italian songs in the house.
"He always told us, 'You can never take away from a country without giving something back.' That's what led me into the Marine Corps, and that's what led my brother into the Air Force," Richichi said.
In addition to Konsler and Richichi, survivors include Mary Arcidiacono, his wife of 65 years; son Steve Arcidiacono of Orlando; daughters Eva Fifer of New Smyrna Beach and Tina Bolin of Orlando; 11 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Carey-Hand Cox Parker Funeral Home, Winter Park, is in charge of arrangements.