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Don Waful, WWII veteran, dies at 103

A once in a lifetime event to experience living history - the 10th Mountain Division Band had the honor of meeting and performing for World War II Veteran, 2nd Lt. Donald Waful. (Staff Sgt. Seth Barham/U.S. Army)

Don Waful, a World War II veteran and one of Syracuse University’s oldest alums, died on Thursday at 103 years old, according to the school.

Waful lived a life so rich that it is currently the subject of an exhibit at the Onondaga Historical Association. He was a World War II veteran and a prisoner of war. He was president of the Syracuse Chiefs (now Mets) for 35 years. He has missed three Syracuse home football games since 1945.

He was to be recognized as part of Syracuse University’s Orange Central ceremonies this weekend and was scheduled to receive the school’s first Military/Veteran Award on Friday night at the Syracuse University Alumni Awards Celebration. The award honors a military member or veteran alum for exceptional service or achievement in their military or post-military career.

“Syracuse University is one great big lifetime of familiarity to me,” Waful said after he was informed of the award, according to Syracuse University. “I’ve seen an awful lot of medals awarded for academics and sports, but I never won one myself. Maybe it’s about time, because I’ve been around a long time. If I can use a cliché, I’m deeply honored.”

Waful received his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University’s College of Arts & Sciences in 1937 and his master’s degree from the school in 1939. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941, where he met his first wife, Olga Casciolini, while stationed in North Ireland.

According to the U.S. Army, Waful was with the 1st Armored Division in Tunisia when his unit encountered a German tank company and was taken prisoner in 1942. He survived POW camps in Italy, Poland and Germany.

Remarkably, he was a prisoner of war with Fred Johnson, the father of former Major League Baseball player and manager Davey Johnson, and years after was able to enlighten Johnson about the conditions they both endured.

His capture, and subsequent reunion with Casciolini, was the inspiration for a musical titled “I’ll Be Seeing You” that was performed in Syracuse and Philadelphia in 2002.

Waful went on to have a career in insurance and served as president of the Syracuse Chiefs baseball team for 35 years, where he was involved in the design and construction of NBT Bank Stadium, which opened in 1997.

Casciolini died in 1998, and Waful eventually re-married with his Syracuse sweetheart, Ginny. She died in 2010 after they had been married for a decade.

Waful discussed his life as a Syracuse fan last year with The Daily Orange, reflecting on a fandom that dates back to the 1930s. Pete Sala, Syracuse’s vice president and chief facilities officer, helped arrange transportation so that Waful could continue attending games with ease.

Waful also remained a regular visitor to the Syracuse OHA, where the exhibit dedicated to his life that is currently being shown is quite aptly titled “Donald R. Waful: The Remarkable Life of a Local Syracusan.”


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