- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) - Vince Maranto entered the Marine Corps during the Korean War in 1951, and for the rest of his life, he lived by the slogan “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

And that’s the way he wanted to be buried — in full dress blues.

When Maranto died June 30, son Tony remembered his dad’s wish, but years removed from the war, Vince Maranto had held onto only his coat.

Tony scrambled to assemble pieces of a complete Marine uniform in the days before the funeral, calling around to surplus stores with little luck, and realizing anything he would order online wouldn’t make it in time.

Desperate, he called a recruitment center in Schaumburg to see if Marines there knew other places to look.

Look no further, said the gunnery sergeant who answered the phone.

“I was naming off the list of stuff. I could hear him talking to the other Marines,” said Tony, of Arlington Heights. “When he came back on the phone, he said, ‘Yeah, we got everything for you.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘We’re taking the stuff off our uniforms.’”

“He said, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine.’”

And so the 84-year-old veteran from Arlington Heights was buried in complete military uniform.

The Marine recruiter who picked up the phone, David Valentin, said it didn’t matter how he and other Marines got the items Maranto needed — a National Defense ribbon, Marksman badge, white belt and brass buckle — they were going to make sure he got it all.

“It’s one of those things we do,” Valentin said. “It’s kind of natural. A Marine’s in need and we help out.”

As Maranto drove to the recruiting center at Schaumburg and Springinsguth roads, the national anthem was on the radio. It was playing on a country music station, to which Maranto never listens. He turned it up.

At a stop light, a pickup truck approached from behind. It had two flags flying: an American flag and the Marine Corps flag.

“I thought, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’” Maranto said. “I was, of course, crying. In my mind, (I was thinking) how Dad knows what I’m doing. In some weird way, I thought Dad was saying, ‘Thanks.’”

Maranto had brought his dad’s discharge papers along to assure the Marines he wasn’t making the story up. Valentin noticed Vince Maranto’s home address from more than six decades before: North Ridgeway Avenue in Chicago.

Valentin grew up a couple of blocks from there.

As Maranto was about to leave with his loot, Valentin asked about pants.

Maranto didn’t have any. After the war, Vince Maranto’s mother took the red stripes off his blue pants and sent them to family in need in Sicily.

His son was planning to have him buried wearing a regular pair of pants, figuring they wouldn’t be noticed in the casket.

Valentin dug into his locker and gave Maranto one of his own pairs.

“A proper uniform, you try to wear the uniform the right way,” Valentin said. “That was important to me.”

Valentin and two other Marines in the office that day donated pieces of their uniforms. Maranto got lucky, because not every Marine has the same ribbons and badges he needed. Valentin tries to keep ribbons and belts in stock so veterans can replace bits that are worn out, but sometimes they have to order new items by mail.

It would have cost around $200 to buy all the pieces of the uniform Maranto needed.

The suggestion to call the recruiting center came from Vince’s wife, Jean, who was married to Vince for 59 years.

They met after the war, and she never saw him in uniform until his wake last week. In her eyes, her husband looked “incredible,” Maranto said.

“He’s a handsome man. I would date him,” she joked to her son.

Vince Maranto was drafted in 1951 at the age of 20 and became a corporal. His unit never went to Korea, instead supporting the war effort stateside.

When he returned to Chicago, he worked as an automotive painter at his brother’s body shop. He got a job at Courtesy Motors in 1960, then moved his family to Arlington Heights in 1968. He worked at Colonial Chevrolet in Schaumburg from 1971 until his retirement in 1992.

Three Marines were at the burial service at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines. One was a bugler playing taps, and the other two folded the American flag and presented it to his widow.

Valentin, the young Marine recruiter, wrote Tony Maranto an email that day.

“Now we have a new Marine guarding the gates of Heaven,” Valentin said.

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Source: (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald, https://bit.ly/1GIpRxS

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Information from: Daily Herald, https://www.dailyherald.com


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