Friday, February 6, 2015

Abington's Veteran's Agent Will Not Be Forgotten

Walk into any room or office at town hall and you'll probably encounter a G.I. Joe action figure. The G.I. Joes belonged to the late Joseph D. Colantoni, Abington's most beloved and longest-serving veterans agent. Colantoni, who lost his battle with cancer in March 2013, was veterans agent for more than 17 years. "Joe just had a presence that is still missing today in town hall," Assistant Town Manager Dori R. Jamieson said. "We miss his laughter. We feel like sometimes we can still see him. He is a hard guy to forget." In November, the town dedicated a wood-and-granite bench outside town hall in his memory. 
Throughout his long career, Colantoni expressed his love for veterans and military personnel in many ways. He staged holiday-season wrapping parties to get gifts ready to be sent to Abington soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also led the charge to establish a Veterans Vietnam Era post in Abington. In honor of Colantoni's "soft side", Jamieson keeps a teddy bear in full Army field uniform on a filing cabinet. A large number of items from his collection went to his son, Joseph Colantoni Jr., a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who lives in Vermont, she said. Jamieson also has a toy infantryman that plays the bugle when you press a button. Colantoni kept these items and dozens of others on custom-made shelves in his office. Those shelves are now empty. His collection took years to build. Veterans he'd helped over the years kept coming back with gifts of toy soldiers and military equipment. "We all have our own piece of Joe," said Elizabeth Shea, administrative assistant to the planning board, who affectionately referred to Colantoni as "Old Sarge". 
Colantoni served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Shea proudly has on display in her office one of Colantoni's favorite action pieces - a G.I. Joe soldier wearing a red beret and carrying an M-16 rifle. Wayne J. Norling, the town's director of information technology, has several of Colantoni's toy M-16 rifles and a carbine. "I took all the guns and stuff. He used to be right next door, so we used to talk all the time," Norling said. Deputy Assessor Jack Pistorino has a toy Army jeep and two of Colantoni's cherished pewter commemorative plates mounted on a wall in his office. "We miss him, big time," Pistorino said. "He was a gentleman who took care of all the veterans. Just a good guy." Board of health chief clerk Mary DeRuschia has a toy medical officer in bandages as her favorite Colantoni memento."I look at it every day and I think of Joe," DeRuschia said. Shea said the miniature reminders of Colantoni will remain on display for years to come, "until none of us is here any more."

From The Patriot Ledger