World War II veteran James Forte died suddenly on Nov. 19 in the North Merrick home he built in 1948. He was 99.
Even in his 90s, James Forte would spend summer nights dancing with his daughters at the Jones Beach band shell.
“My father was strong,” said his daughter Jacqueline Sinz, 55, adding that he lived through multiple bouts of tuberculosis and still served in combat during World War II. Forte’s last devastating onset of the disease came after the war, and his wife, Adele, nursed him back to health instead of sending him to a sanitarium.
“She would do anything for him,” his other daughter, Christine Ward, added, and Sinz chimed in, “And he would do anything for her.”
Forte died suddenly on Nov. 19 in the North Merrick home he built in 1948. He was 99.
He was born in Brooklyn in 1917 to first-generation Italian immigrants. He and his nine siblings sold vegetables on the streets for spare change. If they earned a dollar, Sinz said, it was big money. Forte’s life changed when he was a child and shared an apple with a friend who had tuberculosis. That summer, the friend died, and Forte experienced his first bout of the disease that he would battle for years.
As a teenager, he lived in an Elmont home that his parents built. He attended Sewanhaka High School, but left in his senior year to work on his family’s farm. In 1941, when he was 23, he was drafted to serve in World War II. During his training, however, he experienced another onset of tuberculosis and was sent home.
After recovering, he went through training again and became part of the 94th Infantry Division. His first commanding officer was Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, one of the minds behind the Manhattan Project. Forte was sent overseas in 1944 and was stationed in Normandy, where he was a howitzer cannon gunner. He went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, under Gen. George S. Patton, and took part in the assault on the Siegfried Line in Germany.
Forte and his division also liberated several concentration camps, Ward said. She never knew the details, however, because her father would always cut the story short when he told it, before beginning to sob under its emotional weight. “It affected him very much,” she said.
In October 1945, Forte was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant and awarded four battle stars. He was also a member of the 94th Infantry Division Association’s New York chapter.
After Forte returned from the war, Sinz said, “my father built [Long] Island with his other brothers.” Forte and his brothers started a construction business called Forte Kirby Home Builders, and began by building one another’s houses. Under the G.I Bill, Forte was able to afford lumber and went on to run a business that built many Long Island homes, hospitals and places of business.
Forte met his wife, Adele, at a social hosted by the United Service Organization in 1946. He said he fell in love with her blue eyes, Ward recalled. In 1948, he built their house in North Merrick.
His daughters both said that his mind was still sharp in his old age. He could walk until the day he died, and promised Ward that he would dance with her at Jones Beach on his 100th birthday in December. His humor was also pointed, Sinz said: He would pretend to be sleeping or confused if he didn’t want to talk or argue.
Forte was predeceased by his wife, Adele, who died in 2009. He is survived by his children, Janet Forte-Postbrief and her husband, Simon; James Forte and his wife, Carolyn; Ward and her husband, John, and Sinz and her husband, Randall; his grandchildren, Heather, Carolyn, Melissa and Lisa; his great-grandchildren, Billy, Giovanni, Amanda, Gavin, Justin and Michael; his brother, Lewis, and his sisters-in-law Lena, MaryAnn, Adelaide and Dolores.
The day that Forte died, Sinz bought him a meal from All American Hamburger Drive-in in Massapequa. When she put it in front of him, his eyes were closed, and he had a smile on his face. She lifted one of his eyelids because she thought he was pretending again, but she knew that this time, he wasn’t.
Ward said she plans to dance at the Jones Beach band shell on her father’s 100th birthday.