HOLYOKE — Samuel Lococo served all over the Pacific during World War II as a radio operator on a destroyer, surviving one major sea battle after another.
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He was laid to rest Monday by his heartbroken family — who had to keep their distance. He was one of the 60 veterans who have died from the coronavirus at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.
Lococo was laid to rest on his 97th birthday.
“I thought he’d be the one to make it,” Lococo’s granddaughter, Kristen Deluco, 43, told the Herald. “He was truly just the most amazing family man ever.”
Three generations of his family came to the Soldiers’ Home to watch the onetime Northampton mailman receive military funeral honors and to say goodbye.
Lococo died of the virus Thursday, one of the many who have succumbed to the virus in an outbreak at the state-run facility, prompting a federal investigation. As of Sunday, 90 veterans living at the facility and 81 employees tested positive for COVID-19, according to health officials.
Lococo’s children were permitted to observe Monday’s ceremony, and his daughter, Alice, said she listened to taps play outside three times for her dad.
“It was incredible, the amount of people that came in crying and giving him their final goodbyes, all day long,” she said of staff members who came by.
Staff members who had the day off joined working employees in front of the building, where Lococo’s family members stood with masks and bandanas on and flowers in their hands. A facility employee read a eulogy for Sam over the loudspeakers, recounting how caregivers adored his good humor.
“These workers here are angels,” Lococo’s daughter, Mary Ellen Reed, said. “They are putting their lives on the line.”
After serving as a petty officer on the USS Healy — a Navy destroyer involved in the World War II battles for Saipan, Guam, Yap, Tinian and more — Lococo and his wife of 62 years, Doris, raised four children. He was called “Poppy,” and on the morning that would have been his birthday, his kin recalled his own quirky way of celebrating.
Lococo’s own father was an Italian immigrant who spoke only some English, and would say “Happy birthday for you” to his son.
“We all say that at birthdays, and he sang it,” granddaughter Jen Lucine said. The family at spaghetti and recalled the good times over Zoom on Monday night.
Members of the U.S. Air Force saluted him. His daughters placed white roses on his casket and his family tearfully waved goodbye.
“He was so amazing,” Deluco added. “He was our hero.”