Obituary: Carmel James Cirocco / Building inspector was bomb squad leader in World War II
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Carmel James "Carl" Cirocco was never one to talk extensively about injuries he received as an Army officer responsible for bomb disposal in World War II. The evidence was there permanently, however, in the former Pittsburgh building inspector's missing or maimed fingers and an arm he couldn't straighten.
"He used to always make light of it," said a longtime friend, Jack McGoogan, who is still a senior building inspector for the city. "He would always smoke a cigar, and he'd say, 'At least they saved me enough of a finger that I could still smoke this without dropping it too often.' "
Mr. Cirocco, recipient of two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for his service and wounds suffered in the Pacific islands, died at his son's home in Peters on Saturday at age 91. He was in good health most of those years, even becoming a scratch golfer at North Park despite the lasting war injuries. He was a longtime fixture in the North Side's Federal-North area, usually seen wearing a fedora hat and bermuda shorts while smoking his cigars.
He was a North Sider his whole life, having grown up in Manchester as one of 10 children of an Italian immigrant blacksmith. Mr. Cirocco was an honors student with artistic skills at Allegheny High School. His natural intelligence led the Army after drafting him to send him to its school in Aberdeen, Md., where he was trained to become a leader in the 109th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad.
One chapter of a new book, "Nine from Aberdeen," includes details of Mr. Cirocco's exploits and injuries as one of more than 2,000 soldiers trained during World War II to defuse bombs, disable mines and remove explosives without the kind of protective clothing and robotic assistance that are common today.
The book by West Virginia University adjunct faculty member Jeffrey Leatherwood describes Mr. Cirocco, while a first lieutenant, being wounded in New Guinea in 1944 from shell fragments striking his arm and his chest when he threw a hissing artillery shell to get it away from soldiers before it exploded.
Instead of taking the medical discharge to which he was entitled, the lieutenant remained in the Pacific. In the Philippines later in 1944, he was attached to a unit that was ambushed by Japanese soldiers. A grenade blast nearly cost him his left arm, which was saved only by field work of a Filipino doctor, and he took extensive shrapnel injuries. There were too many of those metal pieces inside him to ever be removed, including some near his heart.
"When he'd go through the X-ray machine at the airport, it would light up like a Christmas tree," said one of his four daughters, Monica Ann Dugan of Maumee, Ohio.
Mr. Leatherwood conducted several interviews with Mr. Cirocco, who was clearly respected by the men under him, the author found from his other research.
"He took all the risks that they took," Mr. Leatherwood said. "He didn't just point a finger and tell them to do things."
The impact of the war's trauma did affect Mr. Cirocco in the years immediately after the war, his children said, when he took work as a parking attendant at the Mon Wharf. In the 1950s he joined the city's Bureau of Building Inspection, where some of the same leadership qualities he showed during the war enabled him to rise to supervise other inspectors. He retired in 1983.
He was a by-the-book inspector whose biggest concern was for those city residents who weren't well off, said his son, Alex of Peters. Mr. Cirocco appeared at numerous City Council meetings speaking of the need for better building codes and safety.
"He was a very down-to-earth, honest man," his son said, "but he could be abrasive at times, stubborn, if he thought he was right."
Mr. Cirocco was also a devout Catholic who served as an usher at St. Peter Church on the North Side and ran the bingo game there for some 20 years.
He also used his organizing skills to head up a group of more than 20 fishermen and friends who took annual trips for decades to Rice Lake in Ontario. He would return every October with a huge haul of musky and smelling of fish himself as his family sat down to musky suppers for many days thereafter.
In addition to Monica and Alex, Mr. Cirocco is survived by his wife, Ann; three other daughters, Patricia Ann Cullinane of Rockford, Ill., Laurita Ann Bergner of Dublin, Calif., and Julie Ann Smith of West View; a brother, Joseph Cirocco of Apollo; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Friends will be received from 3 to 7 p.m. today at Stephen M. Brady Funeral Home, 920 Cedar Ave., North Side. A Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in St. Peter Church, 720 Arch St.
First Published October 24, 2012 6:05 am