Yesterday, while Jose and I were doing the epic Intercity Ride, my friend Tony Napoli died. He was 85, a charter member of the Greatest Generation. In WWII, he joined the air force, and served as a flight engineer and gunner on a B-24 in the European theatre, flying from north africa and later Italy. He participated in the raids on the oil services at Ploesti, one of the major events of the war, and his crew would always say "tony will get us home", and he always did. I knew him from the park where he was something of a legend. He’d done more marathons than he could count, held the indoor masters mile record (5:25, at cornell’s Barton Hall track, which is a rather slow track as they go), and was always a fun guy to run and walk with.
One of his best stories was of the time he ‘marooned’ his crew in Vegas:
After the war, Tony was on a B-29 crew and on a trip to Nevada the crew had the brilliant idea of ‘diverting’ to Las Vegas. "Hey Tony, can you knock out one of the engines?" "yea I can lean out the mixture and knock out an engine." So he leaned out the mixture, the engine started to ping and knock and they had to shut it down before it caught fire. Diverting to Las Vegas, they had a little time off, until the necessary parts could arrive. Needless to say, the guys had a little fun at taxpayer expense.
He will be missed by all, but after his intracranial bleed a few weeks ago that robbed him of his ability to speak, and left him in a near comatose state, it was time for him to go. I got to see him in the hospital, and he indicated that he recognized me. It was hard to see him in that state, but that’s what happens. Being 85, this is a little different paradigm than the deaths of my friends Chris Webber (hit by a van) and Tony Apuzzo (complications from liver cancer) at age 25. Tony had a full life, and although he had no children, his legacy will live on in the memories of his friends.