Northeast Times

Honoring a hero

William Arpino’s heroism has stood the test of time. Sixty years after his service in the Korean War, he has accepted a Purple Heart.

  • A delayed tribute: Korean War veteran William “Ron” Arpino accepts a replica of the Purple Heart on Aug. 11 at Holy Redeemer Hospital. He declined the award decades ago. At the time, in 1953, he feared that his family, especially his mother, would have been worried when notified of his injuries. MATT SCHICKLING / TIMES PHOTOS

  • A delayed tribute: Korean War veteran William “Ron” Arpino accepts a replica of the Purple Heart on Aug. 11 at Holy Redeemer Hospital. He declined the award decades ago. At the time, in 1953, he feared that his family, especially his mother, would have been worried when notified of his injuries. MATT SCHICKLING / TIMES PHOTOS

Wil­li­am “Ron” Arpino is not one to draw at­ten­tion to him­self.

He was un­as­sum­ing in the way he wheeled down the aisle of the aud­it­or­i­um at Holy Re­deem­er Hos­pit­al to­ward a table of his memor­ies, al­most ob­li­vi­ous to the 50 or so fam­ily mem­bers, friends, fel­low vet­er­ans and rep­res­ent­at­ives from vari­ous me­dia out­lets gathered just to learn more about his story.

When Arpino, 82, ar­rived at the front, he sur­veyed the memen­tos - pho­tos from his days as an Army tech­nic­al ser­geant, oth­ers of fam­ily and his Sil­ver Star Medal, awar­ded for “gal­lantry” in mil­it­ary ac­tion against a U.S. en­emy. He picked up a photo of his late wife, Lu­cille, and tears streamed down his cheeks. There was noth­ing the­at­ric­al about it.

On Aug. 11, 60 years re­moved from his ini­tial mil­it­ary ser­vice dur­ing the Korean War, he was there to ac­cept a rep­lica of the Purple Heart, a dec­or­a­tion he de­clined so many years ago. At the time, in 1953, he feared that his fam­ily, es­pe­cially his moth­er, would have been wor­ried when no­ti­fied of his in­jur­ies. Of­ten, that no­ti­fic­a­tion meant a sol­dier was badly in­jured or dead.

Former U.S. Army Sgt. Bill Malone, a Vi­et­nam War vet­er­an and rep­res­ent­at­ive of the Chalf­ont VFW, re­layed the events of Arpino’s ser­vice in Paugol, Korea, that led to his Sil­ver Star ac­know­ledg­ment.

“Tech. Ser­geant Wil­li­am Arpino, with little re­gard for his per­son­al safety, ex­posed him­self to hos­tile fire to res­cue one of his wounded men. When the coun­ter­at­tack was launched, Tech. Ser­geant Arpino led his squad, fight­ing for sev­er­al more hours un­til the as­sail­ants were com­pletely re­pelled,” Malone said. “[His] in­spir­ing ex­ample of de­term­in­a­tion to res­ist the en­emy, per­son­al gal­lantry and de­vo­tion to duty re­flect the highest cred­it upon him­self and the United States Army.” 

Arpino grew up in Brook­lyn, but moved to Phil­adelphia after meet­ing his wife. For dec­ades, he lived in the North­east, most re­cently in West Tor­res­dale. In mid-Ju­ly, he moved out of his apart­ment and in­to hos­pice care at Holy Re­deem­er Hos­pit­al after be­ing dia­gnosed with ter­min­al pro­state can­cer. He was giv­en just weeks to live.

Know­ing how much his ser­vice meant to him, a fam­ily friend ad­voc­ated for Arpino to fi­nally re­ceive the Purple Heart. Be­cause of time re­stric­tions based on Arpino’s health, there was not time to ac­cess his mil­it­ary health re­cords, so the award had to be a rep­lica. But that does not di­min­ish its sig­ni­fic­ance. 

Arpino’s daugh­ter, Lu Cu­gini, was by his side for the en­tire ce­re­mony. She called the oc­ca­sion “spe­cial, next to his wed­ding day,” and noted a con­sid­er­able change in her fath­er’s mood when the plans began to come to fruition.

“He’s been in a lot of pain,” Cu­gini said. “But I pulled out the Sil­ver Star and pic­tures of my moth­er, and he was back.” 

Seated among his loved ones, with thoughts of those passed near and his Bo­ston Ter­ri­er Maizy at his side, Arpino seemed at peace, and maybe a little ex­cited.

“It’s a great hon­or to get this. It really is,” Arpino said as the Rev. Timothy Judge of Holy Re­deem­er Pas­tor­al Care pinned the medal on his suit jack­et. Tears swelled again, his daugh­ter em­braced him. 

“I can’t say I see my­self as a hero,” Arpino said after the ce­re­mony, fail­ing to real­ize that he ac­tu­ally is.

But he’s happy with the way things are. He doesn’t like to draw any at­ten­tion. ••

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