Marines finally find their man
It took some time to find him and a few false starts, but the oldest living Marine is a 105-year-old Western New Yorker
By BILL MICHELMORE
News Niagara Bureau
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CHARLES LEWIS/Buffalo News
Joseph DiPofi, 105, America's oldest living Marine, chats with Marine Cpl. Adrienne Rigez, 21, a correspondent for Your Corps Marine Television, during a ceremony Monday in the Niagara Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
NIAGARA FALLS - Joseph DiPofi, 105, hasn't been the newest anything for some years. On Monday, he was honored as America's newest oldest-living Marine.
DiPofi captured the title from 104-year-old Eugene Lee, a Syracuse resident who, last month, was nationally acclaimed as the oldest living Marine. Last year, a Florida man of 103 was believed to be the oldest.
Flanked by Marine officers in the Niagara Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, where he has lived for the past 11 years, DiPofi cut a birthday cake with a ceremonial sword, as the Marine Hymn played and caregivers brushed away tears. "He is very with it," said Deidra Negron, an activities leader at the center. "He reads the newspapers every day, plays bingo and comes to cocktail hour every Friday."
The honor came 81 years to the day since DiPofi enlisted. The emotional ceremony coincided with the 228th anniversary of the Marine Corps.
"I came over here for a better life," said DiPofi, who immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1913. "And I made a better life. This is America."
DiPofi, neatly attired in a sports jacket, tan slacks, white sneakers and red Marine Corps League Detachment cap, smiled broadly as he shared the cake, in Marine tradition, with the youngest Marine available, Cpl. Adrienne Rigez, 21. Rigez, a television journalist stationed at the Pentagon, came to Niagara Falls to officially record the occasion.
DiPofi surfaced as a contender for the oldest two weeks ago at a Marine Corps lunch in Buffalo. Major Lawrence M. Landon, commanding officer of the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Buffalo, was praising Lee as the oldest living Marine.
"If I may," interjected George Brock, commandant of the Conrad F. Kania Marine Corps League Detachment in North Tonawanda, "We happen to have an older Marine in our detachment."
After checking DiPofi's military records and birth certificate, it was determined that the Niagara Falls resident is indeed the oldest. "There was a 103-year-old Marine in Florida who, last year, was officially the oldest," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan C. Moor, the Recruiting Station's public affairs representative. "Then we found out about the Marine in Syracuse - and now Mr. DiPofi in Niagara Falls. I believe this latest gentleman is the oldest."
"I don't think there's anyone older," agreed Capt. Daniel E. Colvin, executive officer at the Recruiting Station. "I believe we've narrowed the field to this Marine."
Born in El Chicano, Italy, DiPofi was 15 when he came to America. After going through Ellis Island, he spent the next nine years drifting with friends, said Moor, who researched the family history. DiPofi rode boxcars, lived in boarding houses and found jobs as a dishwasher and construction worker.
He was 23 with a third-grade education when he enlisted in the Marine Corps on Nov. 10, 1922.
"I wanted to see the world," he said. "And I wanted to be somebody and serve my new country."
He was discharged on Nov. 9, 1925, and moved to Niagara Falls. He married Josephine and they had two sons, Philip, now 76, and John, 69, both of Lewiston.
DiPofi worked at Carborundum until he retired at 65. He has six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
DiPofi never owned a car, said his son, John.
"He used to walk the two miles from his house to the Carborundum Company," he said. "Walking and wine, that was his secret - although not so much wine anymore."