Leonard Pecora was an Army sergeant who serviced military airplanes in India’s Himalayan foothills during World War II, maintained subway cars in the Coney Island yards to support his family and was active in Veterans of Foreign Wars posts after retiring about 25 years ago.
“I didn’t win the war but I was there … I was part of it,” he often said, according to members of his family.
Pecora, who had lung cancer, died Sept. 25 at his St. James home. He was 97.
Born in Brooklyn to an immigrant shoemaker, he grew up in Flatbush and entered military service in September 1942.
His wartime travels provided him with a storehouse of memories, one of his two daughters recalled, including arriving by troopship on the island of Tasmania, which even today is one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth. He was fascinated by India’s jungles and kept a pet monkey while doing welding repairs on planes that ferried troops and materiel over the Himalayas into China.
“I had a great uncle who would never talk about the war because he had a different experience, but my dad talked about it, yes,” recalled his daughter Linda Aydinian of East Quogue. “He talked about taking the ship over to New Zealand, going to India, servicing the planes that flew the hump,” referring to the Himalayas.
“As a kid we weren’t interested,” Aydinian said. “But as we got older, we realized there weren’t that many more like him left.”
After his honorable discharge in 1946, he met Lena De Cristo while vacationing at upstate Schroon Lake. They were married in 1951 and raised four children in Brooklyn. Pecora worked as a tailor at Bergdorf Goodman before taking a job with the New York City Transit Authority in the mid-1960s. The family moved to Massapequa Park in 1971.
He retired in the early 1990s. Lena Pecora died in 2011.
Leonard Pecora was an avid stamp collector, fancied model trains and grew prized dahlia flowers, which his family said won prizes at the Long Island Fair. His love for the water took him to the surf at Moriches to angle for flounder, or farther east to Montauk, drawn by winter runs of cod.
The New York Yankees honored Pecora during a game in the Bronx in August of last year, with his name and service record announced during the seventh-inning stretch. Aydinian said he was “over the moon.” He was also honored at a Long Island Ducks game this August, she said.
In addition to Aydinian, Pecora is survived by his three other children, Laurence Pecora of Lambertville, New Jersey; Leonard Pecora Jr. of East Northport; and Lorraine Bongiorno of Nissequogue; and six grandchildren. He was buried Friday at Calverton National Cemetery.
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