WWII, 9/11 heroes finally laid to rest at Calverton National Cemetery

Calverton National Cemetery funerals

With just a few dozen people in attendance, U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. John Prince’s burial Friday at Calverton National Cemetery seemed atypical for someone killed in combat.

The small gathering of relatives and strangers was unusual for a military funeral, during which long processions often follow grieving parents or spouses into the cemetery.

But for Mr. Prince, a Queens native who died over 70 years ago during World War II, that type of service was never possible. His remains were discovered only last summer in a mass grave on Betio Island in the central Pacific, along with those of more than 30 other soldiers.

“It’s beautiful to see,” Calverton National Cemetery assistant director Steve Callagy said of funerals like Mr. Prince’s. “It’s really good that it brings closure to the family.”

Family and friends circle the casket of U.S. Marine John Prince during his funeral Friday.  (Credit: Krysten Massa)
Family and friends circle the casket of U.S. Marine John Prince during his funeral Friday. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

That was certainly the case for Theresa Stack of St. James, whose firefighter husband, Lawrence, an FDNY battalion chief, was killed Sept. 11, 2001. His body was never found amid the rubble at ground zero. It wasn’t until recently, when Ms. Stack was able to secure from New York Blood Center two vials of blood her husband had donated shortly before the attack, that it was possible for her to give him a proper funeral by burying the vials that represented him.

At 2 p.m. Friday, in services held in separate sections of the cemetery, Mr. Stack and Mr. Prince were both finally laid to rest. As mourners entered the cemetery, they were greeted by a large American flag hoisted between two fire trucks. U.S. military veterans also lined the entrance of the cemetery holding flags and saluting as the hearses drove by.

Among the hundreds who attended the service for Mr. Stack, a U.S. Navy veteran, were his two sons, Lt. Michael Stack, 46, and firefighter Brian Stack, 44, who had followed their father into the FDNY.

A Mass for Mr. Stack had been held earlier in the day at Saints Philip and James R.C. Church in St. James. The road near the funeral home was closed as hundreds of firefighters flooded the streets to support Mr. Stack’s family. 

“All of us have suffered a great loss of a great man and father,” FDNY chaplain Father Joseph Hoffman said during the homily.

Retired FDNY Capt. Michael Dugan was in the crowd gathered outside the church Friday morning. He said it is hard to believe how many bodies were never recovered following 9/11.

“There are whole companies in the FDNY that disappeared and they never recovered a body, a tool, a helmet or a piece of gear,” Capt. Dugan said. While he didn’t know Mr. Stack personally, the captain said he knew the family was relieved to receive some form of closure nearly 15 years after his death.

Close family and friends sat inside the church while hundreds of additional firefighters stood outside, listening to the Mass through a loudspeaker. No one in attendance was surprised by the enormous turnout.

“People that knew him are here, but the people who appreciate what he did are also here,” said retired Battalion Chief Art Lakiotes. “We’re a family.”

Mr. Stack was a 33-year FDNY veteran who also served during the Vietnam War. An investigator of work-related accidents out of a Brooklyn FDNY office, he was 58 years old on Sept. 11. He was last seen moments before the second tower fell, helping an injured man attempt to escape, witnesses have said. He was one of 343 FDNY members killed that day.

“It’s sad,” Mr. Callagy said, noting that many 9/11 victims are buried at Calverton National Cemetery. “It’s also kind of nice because they are all together.”

Billy Carberry felt a connection to both funerals Friday. He was at Calverton for Mr. Prince’s funeral as a member of the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, which offers support by attending the funerals of fellow Marines, but had also known Mr. Stack through his own service with the FDNY.

Mr. Carberry said that while he expected hundreds of people to attend Mr. Stack’s burial, he knew few people would feel the same connection to Mr. Prince, who was 19 when he was killed in 1943.

“[We] make sure they are not alone,” Mr. Carberry said of his club, whose members helped escort Mr. Prince’s hearse to the cemetery.

The gravestone of U.S. Marine John Prince at Calverton National Cemetery. (Credit: Krysten Massa)
The gravestone of U.S. Marine John Prince at Calverton National Cemetery. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

As family members circled Mr. Prince’s casket, a man played the bagpipes. Among the relatives was Steven Getzoff, a nephew who referred to Mr. Prince as “Uncle Jack.”

“We were shocked,” he said of receiving the news that his uncle’s remains had been discovered. “Nobody believed it at first.”

Mr. Getzoff’s 25-year-old son, Ronald, followed in Mr. Prince’s footsteps by joining the U.S. Marine Corps. He said he was happy his hero was able to receive a funeral with full military honors all these years later.

“I’m ecstatic,” Ronald said. “He’s back home.”

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Top photo: A hearse enters Calverton National Cemetery Friday afternoon for the funeral of FDNY Battalion Chief Lawrence Stack. As cars entered, they were greeted by veterans holding flags and saluted by firetruck owner James Vaz. (Credit: Krysten Massa)