Friends, fam­ily honor WWII vet­eran on Pearl Har­bor Day

The News & Observer - - Triangle & N.c. - BY BROOKE CAIN [email protected]­sob­

At 99 years old, Louis Serotta has a life­time of mem­o­ries and col­or­ful sto­ries. As a boy, he sold peanuts at Yan­kee Sta­dium and watched Babe Ruth hit a home run. He fell head over heels in love and mar­ried Nell, his wife of 57 years, and raised three daugh­ters with her. He has been the pro­pri­etor of Serotta’s cloth­ing store, now in Raleigh’s Five Points neigh­bor­hood, since 1952.

He has a new mem­ory now, and a new story to tell. Serotta walked into the Hayes Bar­ton Café in Raleigh Fri­day and was greeted by a group of friends, fam­ily, col­leagues and mil­i­tary vet­er­ans gath­ered there to salute his ser­vice in World War II and to re­mem­ber those touched by the events at Pearl Har­bor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Serotta was just 22 years old in Queens, N.Y., when a plan with a buddy to get “free phys­i­cals” at the lo­cal re­cruit­ing of­fice turned into a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps and ser­vice in the Pa­cific on the de­stroyer the USS Gre­gory.

His job on the ship? “Stay­ing alive,” Serotta quipped on Fri­day.

The gath­er­ing was planned by friend David Clap­pier and hosted by Frank Bal­lard, owner of Hayes Bar­ton Café and Dessert­ery. U.S. Marine Corps ac­tive duty Staff Sgt. Thomas Wilkie wel­comed Serotta while the “Marines’ Hymn” played in the back­ground and Marine vet­er­ans Tom Young, Sam Wor­ley and Jay Wat­ters — all of Raleigh — looked on.

Wilkie gave Serotta a framed Marine Corps col­ors flag. Young fixed a pin of the U.S. flag next to the Marine Corps flag to Serotta’s lapel, and Wor­ley pre­sented him with a black “Marine Corps Vet­eran” cap. Cather­ine Stiers, study­ing for her Masters in his­tory at N.C. State, gave Serotta a framed pho­to­graph of him­self in uni­form.

The Five Points cafe, adorned with WWII-era mem­o­ra­bilia and its walls cov­ered in por­traits of WWII vet­er­ans and 1940s movie stars, was the per­fect set­ting for Fri­day’s lun­cheon. Bal­lard spoke about how the res­tau­rant is a trib­ute to his par­ents and his wife’s par­ents, par­tic­u­larly his fa­ther, Bill Bal­lard, who joined the Navy just months af­ter the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor.

The framed pho­to­graph of a young Serotta in his Marine uni­form will hang on the Hayes Bar­ton Café walls, along­side other lo­cal WII vet­er­ans, in­clud­ing the fa­ther-in-law of Young, who pre­sented Serotta with the Marine Corps lapel pin.

Serotta lives in Cary now with his two daugh­ters, Janet and Bar­bara Serotta. A third daugh­ter, Diane Hill, lives in Cincin­nati. Nell died in 1998. He never re­mar­ried, never even went on a date, Bar­bara Serotta said.

True to char­ac­ter, Serot- ta’s first words to those gath­ered on Fri­day were a quip: “If I had known you were go­ing to make this much a fuss, I wouldn’t have come!”

Serotta re­galed his guests with sto­ries and jokes, in be­tween bites of his lunch. But be­neath the jokes and de­flec­tions, Serotta ad­mit­ted to be­ing touched by the gath­er­ing.

“I feel very hum­bled,” he said. “Ex­tremely so. There are thou­sands of Marines that de­serve this much more than I do.”

Spo­ken like a true Marine.

CASEY TOTH [email protected]­sob­

Louis Serotta, a 99-year-old World War II vet­eran, re­ceives gifts from friends, fam­ily, and re­tired and ac­tive ser­vice mem­bers Fri­day dur­ing a lunch to honor his ser­vice and com­mem­o­rate Pearl Har­bor Day at Hayes Bar­ton Cafe & Dessert­ery in Raleigh.

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