Frank Perconte recalled as hero in war, everyday life
By Bob Okon email@example.com October 28, 2013 3:12PM
Updated: December 1, 2013 7:29AM
Frank Perconte found fame late in his life when he and others who fought in a parachute unit in World War II were depicted in the book and TV miniseries “Band of Brothers.”
But Perconte was remembered by family at his funeral Monday as much for the way he lived his life after the war. Perconte, 96, died Thursday at his home in Joliet.
In World War II, he was a member of an Army unit that parachuted into Normandy in the triumphant D-Day invasion and later into Holland in the failed Operation Market Garden campaign that was depicted in the movie “A Bridge Too Far.”
He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where Perconte was wounded. He received a Purple Heart and many other war medals.
Perconte served in Easy Company, part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, known as the “Screaming Eagles.” He was among the soldiers whose war experience was depicted in historian Stephen Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers.” Perconte also was portrayed on film when “Band of Brothers” was turned into a TV miniseries of the same name.
In his eulogy, Darren Perconte remembered how his grandfather joked at one point when his battle heroics were getting attention that “so many people are calling me a hero I’m starting to believe I am one.”
“I believe he was a hero,” Darren said.
He told of his grandfather’s devotion for four years to his late wife, Evelyn, after she went into a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease.
“My grandfather was there every day, all day,” he said. “It went beyond that it was the right thing to do. This is what he wanted to do.”
The Rev. Brad Baker, who said the funeral Mass at the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus, where Perconte was a parishioner, described him as a man who “did his duty” both during the war and afterward.
“May Frank now know the reward of his labors,” Baker said in his homily. “We are so grateful that he knew his duty.”
Perconte led a simple life as a mailman. He and Evelyn had one son. Perconte was an usher at St. Raymond’s and a life member at Cantigny Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 367 in Joliet.
Baker reflected on a conversation with Perconte’s son, Richard, who told him that although the war experience was a large part of his father’s life, Frank “always kept his feet on the ground. His approach was they were only doing their jobs.”
“He was always Frank Perconte,” Darren said during his eulogy. “He was authentic.”
Perconte was in his mid-80s when the HBO miniseries was made. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the 10-part series shined a light on the wartime heroism of Perconte and other soldiers of Easy Company.
Perconte told The Herald-News in 2003 that at his wife’s nursing home, they called him “Mr. Hollywood.” He went to Los Angeles in 2002 to join 40 other veterans from Easy Company on stage for the Emmy Awards. He also joined his old comrades when HBO flew Easy Company veterans to Normandy in 2001.
Perconte developed a friendship with Jamie Madeo, the actor who played him in “Band of Brothers.” Madeo visited Perconte in Joliet a few times, and Perconte told The Herald-News that the two of them stayed in touch.
The attention paid to Perconte and other World War II veterans late in their lives reflected a renewed appreciation for the ordinary soldiers who freed Europe, kept the world safe for democracy and made up what Tom Brokaw called in his 1998 book the “greatest generation.”
At Perconte’s funeral was Al Mampre, a medic from the 101st Airborne Division, who lives in Skokie and saw Perconte in August when he brought a teacher from France who wanted to visit Perconte. The teacher, Mampre said, makes a point of taking students to Normandy and knew of the “Band of Brothers.”
Perconte fought in some of the most horrible battles of World War II and was able to return home and resume a normal life. In a 2004 interview with late Herald-News columnist John Whiteside, Perconte said his most vivid memory of D-Day was walking along a road that was lined on both sides with the bodies of hundreds of dead German soldiers.
Perconte also said he wanted to parachute out of the plane on D-Day because so many aircraft were being shot down while he was waiting for the order to jump.
“I’m glad I went into the paratroopers,” he said in another Whiteside interview. “But surviving in combat is a lot of luck.”
The comment reflected an ability to deal with circumstances that was evident in other things Perconte said or did over the years. His grandson described him as “blunt” with a great sense of humor.
And when Whiteside wrote a column about Perconte’s all-day visits with his wife in the nursing home — combing her hair and taking home her laundry to do — Perconte talked about his regrets that Evelyn’s loss of memory made it impossible for her to follow her grandchildrens’ graduations.
“It doesn’t do any good to cry now,” Perconte said in the interview. “I do what I’ve got to do because I love doing it for her. I love my wife.”
The man who had faced so much death and destruction in war and viewed his survival as a matter of luck appeared to treasure the simple things back home.
Tony Arellano, commander of the Cantigny VFW Post, led other veterans from the post at a brief memorial service Monday at Blackburn-Giegerich-Sonntag Funeral Home before Perconte’s funeral. Arellano said he saw Perconte about a week ago when he brought him some of the chicken that Mary Mahalik makes at the post.
“He always loved Mary’s chicken,” Arellano said.
Asked to describe Perconte, he said, “He was just a common ordinary person. He did some extraordinary things.”