Over the past week or so, businesses and organizations have shown their support as news traveled that the remains of Sgt. Dominick J. Licari would return to his family.
The storefront at Melrose Market was decorated patriotically with a banner reading “Thank you and welcome home Sgt. Licari.” Similar messages have been spotted throughout the Mohawk Valley as Licari’s remains made the long, overseas journey back to his hometown.
On Tuesday, he was finally laid to rest nearly 70 years after his plane crashed in bad weather when returning from a mission fighting the Japanese.
“His story is one of patriotism, duty and serving his country,” said state Sen. James Seward, R - Oneonta, during a funeral service for Licari at V.J. Iocovozzi Funeral Home, on Second Avenue in Frankfort. Seward said that for his family, the story is of “loyalty, love, faith and that someday Dominick Licari would come home.”
The service was followed by a procession on South Frankfort Street to Our Lady Queen of Apostles Church, where a Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated. Licari was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, at the corner of Adams and Elizabeth streets, in the family plot.
Seward said the news about Licari’s remains returning home have brought the community together, and noted how Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered flags to be flown at half-staff as a sign of respect.
“It’s coming together to honor a hero,” said Seward. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to pay respects to a true American hero.”
Seward noted during the service how Licari joined the Army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and that he was officially inducted into the service on April 22, 1942.
Licari was a 31-year-old gunner with the 312th Bombardment Group, 389th Bombardment Squadron, in New Guinea, when the two-man Army Air Force A-20 Havoc bomber he was on crashed into a jungle-covered mountain in Papua New Guinea, on March 13, 1944.
The pilot, 2nd Lt. Valorie Pollard, of Monterey, Calif., was also killed, along with four airmen in two of the mission’s other A-20s. The U.S. Casualty Recovery Team in New Guinea recently recovered Licari’s and Pollard’s remains.
Licari’s remains — which included bone fragments and dog tags — arrived at Albany International Airport on Friday and were escorted through local communities by a procession of law enforcement vehicles, a fire truck and motorcycles on a route that allowed Mohawk Valley residents to honor him as one of their own.
During Tuesday’s service, Seward posthumously awarded the Liberty Medal to Licari. He handed the certificate and award to his surviving siblings: August Licari, of Summerfield, Fla., and Katherine Frank, of Darien, Conn.
Seward said the Liberty Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the state Senate. It recognizes those who were willing to and have sacrificed their lives “in the defense of America, and the cause of freedom and world peace.”
Page 2 of 2 - “There’s no question Sgt. Licari was that individual. He made that sacrifice,” he said.
Seward first handed the award to Frank, who was supported by her daughter, Jo Marie Halsey, for the ceremony. August Licari then took a moment to look at the award and after talking quietly with the senator, he gave him a firm handshake.
Both siblings were presented with an empty flag case to keep the American flag that would be draped over their brother’s coffin.
Once the service inside the funeral home finished, family members filed out into waiting cars and limousines for the procession to the church. As the military pallbearers carried the flag-draped coffin to the hearse waiting on Second Avenue, the wind started to pick up through the trees and unfurled some of the American flags held by members of the Patriot Guard riders standing nearby at attention.
An honor guard, followed by the Patriot Guard riders, led the procession. The riders held American flags on the church steps as Licari’s casket was carried inside by pallbearers in a 12-member Army honor guard. About 200 mourned attended the service, according to funeral director Vincent Iocovozzi, a distant relative of the Licari family.
After the Mass, a procession headed to Mount Olivet Cemetery where a 40- by 60-foot U.S. flag was suspended from the extended ladder of an aerial fire truck.
In addition to Licari’s surviving brother and sister, several nieces and nephews, about 50 Patriot Guard members and several World War II veterans attended the burial in the Licari family plot, where a marker with the airman’s name was installed after he was officially declared dead in 1946.
En route to the cemetery, the funeral procession passed the former Licari homestead on East Main Street, Iocovozzi said.
“We got him home,” he said. “It’s the greatest gift, to get him home.”
Contributing: The Associated Press