Saturday, June 23, 2018
Military News

One of the first Gold Star Wives dies

SUN CITY CENTER — Myrtle Verzi Tedesco could die on no other day.

Mrs. Tedesco was one of the founding members of Gold Star Wives of America after her husband, a B-25 pilot, was presumed killed when his plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1945.

She served as the third president of Gold Star Wives, a group of war widows whose loss was marked by a simple gold star in a window of their homes.

Mrs. Tedesco helped form a Tampa Bay chapter of Gold Star Wives a few years ago as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan created a new generation of the bereaved.

On the morning of May 27 — Memorial Day — Mrs. Tedesco's heart failed as her son bent down to kiss her on the forehead. The son, Richard Tedesco, said the TV was on in her room at a Sun City Center assisted living facility. A news station was covering a Memorial Day event.

A few minutes after Mrs. Tedesco's death, a bugler's rendition of taps rose from the TV. "I'm not a religious man," her son said. "But it was like Myrtle was pulling some strings from heaven."

Mrs. Tedesco, who was 94, has been cremated. Her ashes will be buried in her hometown of Leonia, N.J.

Mrs. Tedesco was an ordinary New Jersey housewife when her husband, Lou Verzi, bid her farewell in 1944 to fight the Japanese.

On Feb. 26, 1945, Verzi piloted a B-25 on a raid of the Japanese in the Philippines. His and several other planes in formation hit a cloud bank. After the formation emerged, Verzi's B-25 was gone, lost near a tiny atoll called Karakitang, south of the Philippines.

No sign of the plane or crew was ever found. The military eventually concluded Verzi's B-25 was the victim of bad weather.

Mrs. Tedesco was among the very first members of Gold Star Wives in 1945, serving in 1949-1950 as the group's third president. She was a good friend to Gold Star's founder, Marie Jordan Speer.

"Myrtle was a remarkable person," said Speer, 92, who lives near Dallas, said Friday. "She put her heart and soul into everything she did."

Gold Star Wives lobbied for better benefits for the widows and children of those lost to World War II, from monthly compensation checks to educational benefits and home loans.

In one of the group's early pamphlets, Mrs. Tedesco wrote that member's husbands "by their untimely deaths left to us the unfinished task of molding a firm and lasting peace."

Mrs. Tedesco, who remarried, eventually moved to Sun City Center and helped form a Suncoast chapter of Gold Star about five years ago. The group offered comfort to the spouses of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We're not looking for new members because that means more killing," Mrs. Tedesco told the Tampa Bay Times in 2008. "But we want to reach out to widows and let them know they're not alone. We want to help them."

When she lost her husband, Mrs. Tedesco said, it helped to have a sympathetic band of friends who understood her pain.

"And it kept me busy," she said.

Mrs. Tedesco started to lose her sight in recent months, according to family. Always active, she stopped eating and quickly declined.

"Losing her sight was devastating for her," said Rose Stolarcek, treasurer of the Suncoast chapter of Gold Star Wives. "When I saw her two weeks ago, she said she was ready (to die) and that this was no quality of life."

Bill Verzi, 75, of Largo, Lou Verzi's youngest brother, was reunited with Mrs. Tedesco in 2008 as he researched his brother's death.

Verzi hadn't seen his sister-in-law in 60 years and was shocked to learn she too had settled in Tampa Bay, just a 45-minute drive from his home.

They became close friends as they recounted a shared love for a pilot who never made it home.

Of her death on Memorial Day, Verzi said, "It had to be."

"The troops are waiting for her on the other side," he said. "And they're all going to salute her. That's for sure."

Times researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin contributed to this report. William R. Levesque can be reached at (813) 226-3432.

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