Laying to rest a Coast Guard veteran

Fireman Efrain Rosa, a member of Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater’s honor platoon, plays taps during Lt. j.g. Frank Spatuzzi’s funeral ceremony at St. Cecelia's Catholic Church in Clearwater Fla. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael De Nyse.

Fireman Efrain Rosa, a member of Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater’s honor platoon, plays taps during Lt. j.g. Frank Spatuzzi’s funeral ceremony at St. Cecelia's Catholic Church in Clearwater Fla. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael De Nyse.

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael De Nyse, 7th Coast Guard District public affairs.

The Greatest Generation came of age during a world at war and created a lasting legacy that has shaped us all and the communities we live in. One of the members of this generation was Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Frank L. Spatuzzi, a talented ballplayer who felt a higher calling and made the decision to leave a game he loved. That higher calling was service to his country.

Spatuzzi was born in 1918 in Vauxhall, N.J. Early in life, Spatuzzi’s talents as a “ballplayer” opened doors for him. By the age of 18, he earned a scholarship to Seton Hall University. Playing first base, and hitting more than a .400 average, Spatuzzi was on track to play professional baseball. He was so talented, years later he was elected to the university’s athletic hall of fame.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda McKillip, a member of Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater’s honor platoon, folders the national ensign during Lt. j.g. Frank Spatuzzi’s funeral ceremony. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael De Nyse.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda McKillip, a member of Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater’s honor platoon, folders the national ensign during Lt. j.g. Frank Spatuzzi’s funeral ceremony. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael De Nyse.

At the age of 19, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree and by the age of 21, he had a master’s degree from Seton Hall University.

Spatuzzi’s academic and athletic achievements came to an abrupt halt in 1941, when the United States was thrust into war. Without hesitation, Spatuzzi traded in his baseball glove for patriotic duty. He put his athletic career on hold and joined the U.S. Coast Guard.

During the war, Spatuzzi fought in the Pacific with great distinction. As an officer, he participated in the D-Day invasions of Saipan, Tinian and Leyte. In 1944, a suicide plane hit Spatuzzi’s vessel while he was fighting in the Philippine Islands.

Spatuzzi was hospitalized for more than two years. In 1946, he was decorated for his courage under fire and was awarded the Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds that left him with a life-long limp.

After leaving the military, Spatuzzi was never able to play baseball again; however, that misfortune didn’t damper his spirits.

“I live by three virtues,” said Spatuzzi in an interview before his death. “One is compassion. The other is sensitivity. And the third one is integrity. I don’t need anything else.”

Spatuzzi went on to teach high school and then started a successful construction business. His work was instrumental in building St. Peter’s Orphanage in New Jersey.

In the 1970s he met his wife, Inge, a paralegal in a lawyer’s office. Each had been married and divorced, with eight children total. They married in 1985 and Spatuzzi later celebrated the union with a necklace he designed. It had cursive letters spelling “The Franchise” with a diamond dotting the “i.”

“In Frank’s lexicon, it has to do with baseball,” said Inge Spatuzzi, now 77.

Capt. John Turner, commanding officer of Air Station Clearwater, receives an embrace from Inge Spatuzzi, during her husband's funeral ceremony. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael De Nyse.

Capt. John Turner, commanding officer of Air Station Clearwater, receives an embrace from Inge Spatuzzi, during her husband's funeral ceremony. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael De Nyse.

Spatuzzi died Jan. 13, at Suncoast Hospice House in Brookside, Fla., after his health declined from a fall he suffered in December 2011. He was 93.

Family, friends and military brethren honored and celebrated the life of Spatuzzi during a funeral ceremony at St. Cecelia’s Catholic Church in Clearwater, Fla.

“Many loved him. He will be missed, honored and never forgotten,” said a life-long friend at the ceremony.

Spatuzzi truly lived his life. He stuck by his convictions and led by example. His loved ones, his friends and his entire Coast Guard family will surely miss him.

Click the above image to see a video of Lt. j.g. Frank Spatuzzi, a decorated World War II veteran. In this Tampa Bay Times video, he calmly talks about the day a Japanese suicide bomber headed right for his ship. Video courtesy of Tampa Bay Times.

Click the above image to see a video of Lt. j.g. Frank Spatuzzi, a decorated World War II veteran. In this Tampa Bay Times video, he calmly talks about the day a Japanese suicide bomber headed right for his ship. Video courtesy of Tampa Bay Times.

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