‘Taps’ for local post

The city of Dunkirk will be losing a Lake Shore Drive fixture Friday. The Frank Acquavia Memorial Post 1344 American Legion is closing its doors Friday at the close of business.

“It’s not going to be any big fanfare or sendoff or anything like that, whoever shows up, shows up,” Jim Muscato, the Post’s financial officer/treasurer explained. “Our intention is to sell the place.”

After years of declining membership and customers at the post, Muscato said it was time. He added about a dozen members show up on a weekly basis.

“It’s just something that built up over a period of time. We were talking about this about a year ago. We tried to hold out as long as we could but it just got to the point where we’re not making any ends meet now so it’s time to make that decision,” he explained. “We had a meeting. We sent letters out to all the regular Legion members informing them on what we were anticipating doing. We had a meeting about two months ago to discuss the situation and stated where we are at this point. There were like nine members who showed up and the nine members that were there all agreed to put it up for sale, go from there and keep the charter going and just carry on from there.”

Muscato said the Post will keep its charter, which it received March 13, 1947 and work on the current building began in 1951. He stated at one time the Post had some 300 members while just 12 members have paid their dues for 2014. Currently the Post’s enrollment, including the auxiliary and Sons of the Legion, is about 143 people, of whom some 66 are veterans.

Plans call for any funds left after the sale and final accounting to be used in a scholarship fund in the name of Frank Acquavia. Muscato added a display with material relating to Acquavia at Veterans Park Museum is a goal.

“He does have some family in the area and they are aware of the situation. If it doesn’t work out at the Veterans Park we’ll turn over what we feel they should have anyways,” Muscato explained, adding the family was in favor of the display if it can be done. “I’ve been trying to get hold of certain people that were connected to the Post because some of the stuff was donated in their father’s name or something like that. I’d rather they have it than just try to sell it.”

Who was Frank Acquavia?

According to the Post’s Facebook page, Acquavia was born in Dunkirk in 1917. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Rocco Acquavia of E. Second Street and he attended Dunkirk Industrial High School. He had a brother, Paschel, and sisters, Mary, Nancy, Helen, Janet, Mrs. Louis Skelly and Mrs. Justin Leone

Acquavia enlisted in the U.S. Army in April 1940 and was sent to the Philippines five months later. In 1941, Acquavia was captured on Corregidor, an island in the Philippines, during the opening days of the Pacific War.

While he was in Japanese custody, he and the other American prisoners were herded down to a sea plane landing pad area. Acquavia went to retrieve or find food that was hidden at a battery when a Japanese guard spotted him and opened fire, killing him instantly. This was witnessed by Jim Rossoto, a close friend of Acquavia’s from Fredonia. Muscato said the now-deceased Rossoto, although not a member, would often come to the Post just to look at Acquavia’s memorial plaque.

Acquavia’s body was never recovered. His name is listed in the tablets of the missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines. He was awarded two citations for gallantry: the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He was also awarded defense ribbons from Pearl Harbor, the American Theater of Operations in the Philippines and the South Pacific Theater of Operations.

Muscato has been a member for some 23 years and said the financials started going downhill when the smoking ban cut business some 75 percent. That led to a drop in sales at the bar and in money raised through the bell jars.

“No matter what functions we held there’s just not enough people coming in. We kept our Memorial Day thing going, it was always a good fundraiser, we never had a problem there. Other than that, everything else declined,” he continued. “Our main income came from the rental of the hall for banquets or weddings or whatever but you can only charge so much. We had a pretty steady thing there but that went downhill also to a certain point. We just couldn’t depend on that to keep everything else going. … It just became time to shut the door.”

Muscato said the majority of current members are Vietnam-era vets, with a few World War II and Korean War vets mixed in. The newer vets are not as interested.

“They want to get back to their families and back to work, that’s what’s on their agenda and you can’t blame them,” Muscato explained.

Post Adjutant Ed Gould, Post Commander for 10 years, has worked with Muscato in trying to finalize matters.

“If people don’t come in we can’t pay the bills,” Gould stated. “We had a lot of good times there, one heck of a lot of good times. People come down there, they’re like family.”

Gould was asked if he would be present for last call.

“I doubt it, that’s too late for me,” he replied.

By close of business Friday, it will be too late for anyone to visit the place known to locals as the “Acq.”