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. ••