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Daily News Interviews Jennie Prianti Bongiorno
Memorial at Elwood Park honors her Brothers
BONGIORNO'S NURSERIES AND LANDSCAPING:
1 Family, Too Much Grief
Memorial honors 6 lost brothersBy BRIAN HARMON
May 24th, 2001
The day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor is when Caroline Prianti's river of tears began to flow.
She cried then for her six sons, whom she knew would all go to war if their country asked. Even little Dominic.
She cried later when John was wounded in action in Italy, when Peter Jr. died on the beach in Normandy and when a German sniper killed Frank in France.
In all, Caroline McCumiskey Prianti, a daughter of Irish immigrants, buried three sons who were injured in service, including her eldest child, Salvatore, who contracted malaria in the Pacific and died two years after World War II. Two others died somewhat natural deaths long after the war.
Only Dominic outlived his mom. He died in 1997, 14 years after his mother's death, from the hepatitis he contracted while serving in Korea during the 1950s.
"Can you imagine burying five sons?" asked Jennie Prianti Bongiorno, 73, one of two surviving Prianti sisters. "It seems so senseless. Families should be together. My brothers went away, they fought, and they came home in a box."
Brothers, sons, heroesIn an East Northport, L.I., park not far from the Georgia St. home where they grew up, a young Japanese oak tree stands in freshly turned soil, planted Friday in honor of the six brothers.
The memorial at Elwood Park honors the men as heroes, recalls their sacrifices and calls to mind their mother's 40-year struggle with sorrow.
Jennie Prianti Bongiorno, the seventh of nine Prianti children, vividly remembers Dec. 7, 1941, the day her mother's grief began.
"We had just returned from Sunday Mass at St. Philip's, and we were gathered in the living room around the radio," said Prianti Bongiorno, who still lives in East Northport. "The bulletin on the radio reported the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"All of the boys were shouting, 'We're going to war! We're going to fight for our country!'"
While news of the infamous bombing had the brothers in a frenzy, Caroline Prianti sought comfort from her husband, Peter Sr.
"It's going to be all right. It might not happen. There might not be war," he told his tearful wife.
Soon, though, the Army drafted the three older sons — Salvatore, Michael and John. The boys went overseas, and for two years, Caroline Prianti fretted for their lives.
In 1944, Peter Jr. and Frank were called to duty. Soon after came the flurry of Western Union telegrams and sympathetic notes under War Department letterheads, all addressed to "Mrs. Prianti."
'Didn't Have a Chance'
The Priantis learned that June of John's heroic, costly efforts to save his comrades in Italy. John suffered shrapnel wounds to his stomach and was off the front line for months. A telegram noted he was making a "normal recovery."
More devastating were the August telegrams that first said 21-year-old Peter — the dancer among the boys — was missing in action, then later confirmed his death. Within days, the War Department's sympathy letter came.
The same round of correspondence occurred in December. This time the victim was Frank. He was 19.
"The telegrams and letters were always coming," said Prianti Bongiorno, who was 16 in 1944. "First, you got the missing-in-action telegram, then you got the one that stated 'killed in action.' And then you got the letter from the War Department.
"It was terrible. My brothers each got out of school and went right overseas. They were on the front lines and then it was over. They didn't have a chance to get married and have a family."
Caroline Prianti cried until she could no longer produce tears. Then she just prayed. Her daughter, Jennie, said she watched the spirit drain from her mother's strong, effervescent character.
Caroline Prianti died at 89 in 1983, a victim of stomach cancer. The mother of nine took the war to her death, carefully updating a scrapbook that documents her family's casualties of war.
It features the Western Union telegrams, including notes about the return of Peter's and Frank's remains from France, sent years after the war; the War Department letters, and even the stubs of checks — $4.03 for Peter and $1.35 for Frank — for valuables left behind by the fallen brothers.
The same scrapbook contains $53.90 monthly insurance check stubs for Frank's and Peter's deaths. The monthly checks served as constant reminders for Caroline Prianti.
Salvatore, along with Michael and John, made it home from the war.
Sal, the quiet brother with the model looks, married soon after the war but died from malaria in 1947 before having children.
Michael, a car and truck enthusiast, also caught malaria in the Pacific. He lived with the disease until his death in 1979. He had married and raised five children.
John, who loved gardening and tinkering with truck engines, married and raised four children. In 1981, he fell victim to a massive, fatal heart attack.
Dominic, called a ladies' man by his sister, raised seven children before hepatitis ended his life four years ago.
The recent death of Antoinette left Jennie and her sister Mary as the only surviving children.
Framed wartime portraits of the five brothers sit on the mantle in Jennie's living room.
"I kiss their pictures every night before I go to bed. I've been doing that for 60 years," Jennie said.
"I lay awake at night in my bed thinking about them, wondering if they suffered, and praying that they rest in peace."
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