Robert Naimoli has not been forgotten.
On Saturday, a group of about 50 relatives, veterans, and local officials gathered for a special ceremony at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village that paid tribute to the U.S. Army paratrooper, 70 years and a day after his plane was shot down over Picauville, France in the D-Day invasion.
Only 25 years old when he was killed on June 6, 1944, Naimoli, whose Purple Heart was proudly displayed at the ceremony, was originally buried in France. Four years later, his remains were transferred to his resting place in the family plot.
It was the same year that Naimoli’s mother passed away. Some at the ceremony speculated it was undoubtedly of a broken heart.
The headstone bore only the family’s surname and the names of two female family members. For reasons that will likely remain forever a mystery, the hero’s name, along with those of several other family members buried there, had never been inscribed ... until now.
Family members believe the omissions might have occurred simply because their ancestors didn’t have the money to have the job done.
With the sun shining brightly overhead, and many in attendance seeking shelter under a makeshift canopy, Naimoli was honored by a color guard, gun salute, “Taps” and folding of the flag in a 20-minute ceremony that had more than one guest wiping a tear.
The ceremony included the unveiling of the newly restored headstone, which had been lifted up, cleaned and updated at the very same place it has stood for seven decades.
“Today was very moving,” said Michael Naimoli, who began the process of honoring his great uncle about two years ago, after Michael’s brother, Anthony Naimoli, discovered that the member of the 101st Airborne Division had been unrecognized for all those years.
“We went into action to have his name added,” Michael Naimoli said. “It’s closure for my family. I feel like I did a great thing for someone who deserved it. He was part of the Greatest Generation.”
Among the others on hand to pay tribute was Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), chairman of the Committee on Veterans, who said Robert Naimoli died “defending a lot of the freedoms we take for granted.”
Representing Commissioner Terence Holliday from the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, Paul Schottenhamel, himself a former paratrooper, said, “It’s important we honor him. He put his life on the line. Jumping alone is scary enough. He volunteered to become a parachutist. That makes him even more special. He’s welcomed home from France at long last.”
U.S. Marine Erik Naimoli, Anthony Naimoli’s son, who received the interment flag on behalf of the family, was obviously emotional following the ceremony.
“I’m glad he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves. I’m honored to be a part of it,” he said.
According to Michael Naimoli, members of the Kiwanis Club of Howard Beach and the Ozone Park American Legion helped put the ceremony together.
U.S. Volunteers, a group that performs honorary duties across the country, and members of the Vietnam Veterans of America Queens Chapter #32, also participated in the commemoration.
“This is more than we could have wished for. I’m sure Robert is resting in peace now,” Michael Naimoli said.