On October 4, 2009, my grandfather, a 42nd Rainbow Veteran, passed over the Rainbow. I wrote his obituary to be published in the Bergen Record tomorrow and Thursday. I wanted to share his story on this blog because I know my fellow Rainbow families would understand and appreciate all he did in his life. ~EMT
Bernard “Ben” Victor Viola, 91, passed away peacefully on October 4, 2009 after a long battle with dementia. He was born on August 6, 1918 in Fort Lee, NJ. Until the last years of his life, his was surrounded by love, laughter and family in his beloved home in Northvale, NJ. He took pride in the fact that the home he raised his children in with his wife of almost 70 years, Mathilda, he built from the ground up alongside his father, uncle and close friends. He would tell of his adventures of working at Alcoa Aluminum in Edgewater, NJ, where he retired as a tool and dye maker, and starting the Northvale Department of Public Works where he retired as Superintendent. People would listen with great interest as he reminisced about his years on the Northvale City Council and his usually funny boyhood memories involving his younger brother, Fred. Ben had a rare work ethic. He worked every day of his life, whether at the Rockland County Golf Course in his retirement years or mowing his lawn. His hands were never idle. He made tables out of crates, he was the go-to-guy for necklace tangles and he made lovely jewelry boxes. Ben created beautiful wooden hope chests for all of his daughters and granddaughters. Each trunk was put together with meticulous care and each was unique.
He spent World War II as a staff sergeant in the 42nd Rainbow Division 242 Company F. He was a modest man and never spoke of his heroics in the war until years later. He had close encounters with death, was awarded the Purple Heart, and witnessed many horrific days of war. His unit was one of the first liberators into the German concentration camp, Dachau. However, Ben was proud of his time in the Army. Later in life he reconnected with his Army buddies and attended biannual Rainbow reunions in Ocean City, NJ with his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. He also held many leadership positions within the Improved Order of Redmen New Jersey Organization, being a charter member of the Northvale Council.
Ben was a quiet man but had a dry sense of humor that he was never afraid to express. His smile would light up a room and his storytelling was compelling. He laughed easily. He only wore shirts with a breast pocket so his glasses were never far from reach. He would read the Sunday comic page to his youngest granddaughter in funny voices and always succeeded in making her laugh. He spoke fluent Italian and enjoyed eating Mathilda’s Italian cooking. He took joy in family dinners and sharing his wine with friends at his dinner table. He watched golf whenever it was on television, and played the sport whenever he had the opportunity.
Family was important to Ben and he was proud of his children and grandchildren. He was quick to write a note to a grandchild off at college and liked to chat with his family over the phone. He touched the lives of all that knew him and he will be missed every day by those he left behind. He joins his parents, Anthony and Alfonsina (Fevola) Viola, sister, Josephine DePolito and brother, Frederick Viola, in heaven. In addition to his wife, Mathilda (Paglierani), he is survived by four children: Patricia (Harry) Slagle, Mary Lynn Schatke, Donna (Chic) Marcason and Barry (Roseanne) Viola. And grandchildren: Andrew (Diane) Slagle, Christopher Schtake, Tommy (Laura) Schtake, Aimee (Ned) Gormley, Anne Marie (David) Cloutier, and Emily (Ryan) Tolmie. He is also survived by four great-grandchildren. He leaves behind many friends and his beloved cat.
Graveside services will be Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009 at Rockland Cemetery, Sparkill, NY at 11 am. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the National Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, IL 60601 or to the 42nd Rainbow Division Veterans Memorial Foundation Scholarship Fund c/o Jon Janosik, 3398 Kingston Lane, Youngstown, OH 44511.
~EMT, October 5, 2009