Former Southampton Town Board member helps preserve Hampton Bays history

A Walk Down Memory Lane With Jack Capone

W hen I was 12 years old, I would drive my father’s car up and down the driveway,” said 94-year-old Jack Capone with a chuckle. Even though his “parents were very strict,” his father never scolded him for driving the car.

Capone was born in New York City in 1924. His family moved to Hampton Bays when he was two years old to be close to their first cousins, the Catenas. Capone’s father, Daniel, and mother, Mary, were originally from Italy, and came to the United States as teenagers. Records of their entrance are still present in the Ellis Island archives.

Capone’s father was a carpenter and builder by trade who started his own business in Hampton Bays. “I used to like to go with my father to all his jobs. I was only four when I first started. I enjoyed the whole idea of building, from start to finish. First there was just an empty lot, then slowly the structure would go up, and next it was a building. The men would put a branch at the top of the rafter after it was erected, signaling that it was time to celebrate with a drink. It was a tradition and the homeowner knew what it meant. I don’t know if they still do that anymore,” said Capone.

Capone was in eighth grade in 1938 when the Great New England Hurricane hit Long Island. “It started raining really heavy and the winds began to pick up. The school sent us home. We had no idea how bad it would be,” Capone said.

Without the meteorological advancements that exist today, the Hurricane of ’38 hit the Island as a category 3, leaving massive damage and destruction in its wake. Its intensity increased as it continued to Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts with recorded wind gusts of 186 miles per hour. While the Capone family did not sustain a great deal of damage to their home, some neighbors were not as lucky. “We all helped each other and re-built what was damaged,” he remembered.

Enlisting After Pearl Harbor

When Capone became old enough, he worked with his father building and renovating some of the iconic buildings around the Hampton Bays area. They built the Boardy Barn, did the renovations to an old house making it into the public library, and made renovations to both St. Mary’s and St. Rosalie’s churches.

“It was challenging,” admitted Capone, “but it was the kind of work I liked to do.” When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Capone was still attending Hampton Bays High School. “Two weeks after I graduated, me and two of my friends, Gordon Jackson and George Holzman, went down to enlist. I was 18. The Army sent me to California and then Dothan, AL, where the 35th Division was stationed,” he recalled.

“I was assigned to the 1652nd Engineer Utility Detachment as a carpenter construction foreman because of my experience working with my father. My division repaired runways on damaged airfields and buildings of importance. We were sent to France, 40 miles from the combat, and assigned to the headquarters of General Eisenhower, who was Commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force,” he added.

His brother, Anthony, two years his senior, was already serving in the Air Force. During one of his missions, his B24 was shot down by enemy fire as it flew over Poland. A radio operator, “Tony” managed to evade capture for a short period of time. A Polish family helped to hide him from the Nazi forces in the area. He was eventually captured by Nazi troops and remained a captive for several months until his release at the end of the war.

With both sons in the service, the Capone family was concerned with their safety. “I knew my parents were worried about me,” said Capone. “I wrote letters home all the time so they would know I was okay.”

Returning Home To Hampton Bays

When the war ended, Capone’s detachment was sent to Vienna. “I remember the children. They had no food. We would sneak food from the mess hall or take food that was sent to us from home and give it to the children. I would also always make sure I had some candy whenever I went out. They were the ones most affected by the war. They were the victims,” Capone said sadly. “That’s a memory I will always have from the war.”

Capone returned home to Hampton Bays and went back to work with his father. A few years later, “I went with a friend up to Poughkeepsie so he could visit his girlfriend. She had a friend, Rosemarie, and she set up a date for us to meet.” In December of 1947, Capone and Rosemarie married and they had one son, John. Their marriage lasted more than 60 years, only ending when Rosemarie passed away in 2008.

Always active in the Hampton Bays community, Capone served as chief of the Hampton Bays Fire Department in the 1960s. He was also a councilman on the Southampton Town Board in the 1970s.

Like his father, John is also an active member of the Hampton Bays community. He is on the board of the Civic Association, and the assistant director of the Information Technology Department for the Town of Southampton.

In 2012, Capone’s son surprised his father by arranging for him to participate in the Honor Flight program, in which WWII veterans are treated to a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials. John went as a chaperone with his dad, taking the chartered flight to D.C., where they were greeted by a cheering crowd and a military color guard. His father met Senator Bob Dole. The veterans were treated to both lunch and dinner before returning back to New York.

“There was such patriotism and there were so many people who came to see us off and cheer,” John said. “It was an amazing experience for both of us. There aren’t many WWII vets left, so they’ve recently opened the program to other vets in foreign wars.”

Capone said that one of his favorite spots in Hampton Bays is down by the canal. “I used to go there and watch the boats. I’d also sit there and write notes about Hampton Bays.”

The notes Capone wrote can be viewed on the Hampton Bays Historical and Preservation Society’s website. These notes/letters chronicle the historic changes Hampton Bays has undergone over the course of several decades. Having seen the changes firsthand, Capone and his older brother both wanted to preserve Hampton Bays history. Anthony Capone made a YouTube documentary, “Hampton Bays Downtown from the Memory of Tony Capone.”

Jack Capone’s letters can be viewed using the following link: www.hamptonbayshistoricalsociety.com/jack-capone-letters. Tony Capone’s YouTube documentary video may be viewed below or at: youtu.be/F_zrV_AnPg8

valerie@indyeastend.com