Monday, August 2, 2010


1947 yearbook picture

Mario Ablondi often takes the short ride from his home in Pearl River to St. Anthony's Cemetery in Nanuet to visit the grave of his brother, Bruno, who was killed in action in Korea. On a recent visit, he thought someone had mistakenly left a wood cross decorated with a baseball at his brother's resting place. But then he found a note and phone number, on the back.
It had been by Ben Capua, who grew up in the Bronx and had just graduated from Evander Childs High School when he was drafted near the end of World War II. Almost immediately after Bruno Ablondi graduated in 1947 from Pearl River High School, where he was All-Rockland County athlete in three sports, he served a year in the Army. Capua and Ablondi, met when they were reservists and served together in Korea after being activated in 1950.
By then, Ablondi was both playing semi-pro football and baseball. Hoping to keep his pitching arm in shape, he found a catcher's mitt aboard their troop transport ship, the Ainsworth, so Capua and others could catch for him. "By the time we were done," Capua says of those sessions, "I couldn't feel my hand." Capua says his buddy was looking forward to a pro baseball career, perhaps with the Yankees, although Mario Ablondi says nothing had come of his brother's one tryout before Korea erupted.
There was no shortage of volunteers to catch for Ablondi, Capua says. "Everybody loved him. He just had a personality that everyone liked." By June 1951, Ablondi and Capua had seen much action against North Korean and Chinese forces in the area of the 38th parallel, the dividing line between the two Koreas. They had been making gains, pushing enemy forces back north of the dividing line.
But on June 2, Capua says, " a little squad of North Korean snuck up on us and lobbed in grenades. "The GIs dove into nearby foxholes. Bruno Ablondi -- who was known as Bruce or Brucie -- was mortally wounded. "He got hit with a grenade," Capua says, "and there was no helping him." The irony was, they were only days from being assigned from combat.
When that happened, Capua, who in civilian life worked as an embalmer, was assigned to preparing the fallen for transport home. That was so hard emotionally, he told me in a telephone interview Thursday evening, that he never returned to the funeral business. Ablondi't remains arrived back in Rockland County in October 1951. Ben Capua was home by then, too, and was with the Ablondis for Bruno's burial.
In 1979, Ablondi was elected to the Rockland Sports Hall of Fame, praised as one of Pearl River's finest all-around athletes of all time. Capua, now 83, splits his time between Somers in Northern Westchester and the Ft. Lauderdale, FL, area. He's never forgotten being with Ablondi in those last moments of a friendship that had grown so deep that the two men planned to have a double wedding when they returned to the girls they left behind.
Capua worked in his family's construction business, which eventually specialized in stairmaking. He married his sweetheart, settled in Eastchester and raised three children. Their first Corinne, now lives in Somers. When their first son was born 52 years ago, the Capuas named him Bruce, for Bruno "Bruce" Ablondi. Back around memorial day, Ben Capua expressed a desire to visit Ablondi's grave, but couldn't recall where it was. Corinne Capua Storms spotted a mention of Ablondi in my column last year about Rockland's Eagle Chapter of the Korean War Veterans honoring the 27 Rockland residents killed in Korea to mark the anniversary of the war's end, as they will do again today at Onderdonk Cemetery at Rockland Community College.
She called, wondering if I might know where they could find Ablondi's grave. I pointed her to Rockland Veterans Burial Commissioner Tony Lombardi, who worked with Eagle Chapter President Dan Zevola and told her Ablondi is buried at St. Anthony's Cemeteryl. Just before
Father's Day, Bruce Capua accompanied his dad to the grave of his namesake, leaving the wood cross he fashioned at his Stillwell stairs business in Goldens Bridge. His brother, Robert, owns SRI Stairbuilders, in Mount Vernon.
The visit, Ben Capua says, "made me cry," thinking about what they had been through together and the potential lost in Ablondi's death. Mario Ablondi, who is 86, has spoken with Bruce Capua since finding the cross, but has only traded answering machine messages with his brother's wartime buddy. He says he's touched that almost 60 years later, someone remembers Bruno and cared to visit his grave. They must have had some strong connection, "Mario Ablondi says of his brother and the man who never forgot him." Sometimes, two people meet and they get very close, Ben Capua says of his connection with Bruno Ablondi, "It was real brotherly love."

From the Journal News, written by Bob Baird

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