Anthony Pisciotta volunteers at Bayside Cemetery in Ozone Park, repairing the walkways, sealing up mausoleums and making sure the dead are not forgotten. When he discovered that the plaque on the tombstone of a Marine killed in action was missing, Pisciotta found a way to replace it.
Private First Class Irving Aron was killed in action by a band of Nicaraguan bandits who attacked his unit while they were repairing telephone wires on Dec. 31, 1930. President Hoover posthumously awarded him a Navy Cross on April 25, 1931, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The official citation said: “After maintaining his position for an hour he was seriously wounded in the arm. Without regard for his personal safety and disregarding his wound, he took up the fire with the pistol in his left hand and continued to assist in the defense until he was killed.”
Aron’s mother, Celia, who lived on E. 21st Street in Brooklyn, is buried alongside him at Bayside Cemetery.
About 35,000 people are buried in the cemetery, including veterans of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as manufacturers, free- masons, store owners, performers and activists who were well known in their lifetimes. However, the cemetery has become derelict and overgrown due to neglect in recent decades.
“There’s a lot of work to be done here,” Pisciotta said. “If I’d never seen it before I would find it very disturbing, but it doesn’t look bad to me anymore because I saw how bad it was at one point.”
He learned that Aron was buried in Bayside Cemetery while researching a friend’s relative. He looked him up and went out to the gravesite and discovered that the plaque on his tombstone was gone.
A friend made a temporary plaque for Aron’s grave, while Pisciotta contacted several Marine Corps organizations to see if they would replace it. Eventually, he got in touch with Jim Seaman Sr., the assistant area vice commandant of the Marine Corps League, who visited the cemetery with Pisciotta, along with a few other Marines.
“They were equally appauled,” Pisciotta said.
According to Seaman, the Marine Corps League raised money for a replacement plaque, but Parkside Memorial Chapels in Rego Park called them up and decided to engrave the plaque for Aron’s grave, for free. Joe Robinson, one of the Marines who visited Aron’s grave, knew David Goldstein, who owns Parkside Memorial Chapels. The Marine Corps League will instead give the money to Pisciotta for cemetery repair work.
“From going there and seeing what went on, we have a special interest in this issue, it’s a veterans’ issue,” Seaman said. The Marine Corps League will also send younger marines and possibly some Boy Scout troops to help Pisciotta clean up the cemetery.
Seaman said that the Marine Corps League is organizing a rededication ceremony for Aron’s tombstone, which will take place after Memorial Day.
Pisciotta knows a great deal about the cemetery’s occupants and said there may be about 20 more veterans there whose graves have been pilfered. He is compiling data to turn over to the American Legion.
“I volunteered after September 11, so I know how it feels to be forgotten,” Pisciotta said. “I realized that I could be one of those people who just complains about the way things are or I could go out and actually do something about it, so I chose the latter.”