Frank J. Dinovo of Council Bluffs died recently at 91, a very long lifetime after relatives thought his young life had ended at sea in World War II.
In fact, it was Frank J. Dinovo from Omaha who had died in the war — a cousin who also was in the Navy and stationed in the same corner of the South Pacific.
In a mix-up, the Omaha family first was told that their son had survived and was transferred to another ship. Later, the secretary of the Navy had to write his parents a difficult letter — saying it was another Frank Dinovo who had survived.
Brief articles in The World-Herald explained the mess and the grief of the family of the Omaha man.
"Because a cousin whose home is in Council Bluffs has the same name and also is serving in the Navy," one story said, "his parents had clung to hope for his safety until this latest message was received."
For one family, joy. For another, sorrow.
"Both men were serving in the same area," another article reported, "and for three months the issue remained in doubt — with both families unsure which Frank J. Dinovo had been a casualty."
In retrospect, the exact sameness of the cousins' names — both were Frank Joseph Dinovo — had made the confusion almost an accident waiting to happen.
They served on separate ships and, it turned out, both had sailed to the Solomon Islands to help protect Allied troop landings at Guadalcanal.
News articles from that era explained that Frank from Omaha had served as a baker on the USS Astoria. The articles didn't report the name of the ship on which radio technician Frank of Council Bluffs served.
But Mary Jo Dinovo Crowl, one of the Council Bluffs man's daughters, told me last week that her father, who died Feb. 16, had served on the USS Chicago.
Records show that both the Chicago and the Astoria took part in the Battle of Savo Island Aug. 7-9, 1942. The Chicago suffered minor damage to its bow from a Japanese attack; the Astoria took numerous hits and sank.
The two Franks figuratively — if not literally — may have passed each other like ships in the night.
The Chicago survived the hit in August of '42, but not four Japanese torpedoes to the starboard side in January 1943, which sank the ship.
Frank spent time in the water before swimming to be picked up by a rescue ship. He later served on the USS North Carolina.
He eventually came home on leave to marry Mary Garafalo, who insisted that she had known in her heart that "my Frank" was alive, even when relatives hadn't heard from him.
Their wedding photo appeared in The World-Herald, which reported another poignant fact: "Both Dinovo families were guests at the wedding."
JoAnne Dinovo Howland, a niece of the Omaha man who died in the 1942 sinking of the Astoria, was born in 1936 and retains memories of him.
"He had gone to baking school, and he was very nice — a really handsome young guy," she said. "He sent me a kimono from the Philippines."
About 10 years ago, she said, she spotted a man at La Festa Italiana, an annual Omaha celebration of Italian heritage. She thought he looked familiar and asked his last name.
He apparently recognized her. Frank J. Dinovo of Council Bluffs replied: "The same as yours."
After that, she saw him about once a year. One time, she said, he told her that after the war, his father would take him over to Omaha to see the father of the Frank J. Dinovo who had died in the war.
He said he hated to do that, she said, because every time he saw the other father, the man would cry.
The recently departed Frank J. Dinovo was featured in a 2010 World-Herald article, which is reprinted in the newspaper's book "At War, At Home: World War II."
The article tells of recorded greetings that Dinovo sent his wife, Mary, in 1945, but which didn't turn up for 65 years — several years after her death.
But the story of the two Frank J. Dinovos, and the confusion over which one died, apparently hasn't been told publicly since the war.
The Frank who perished at sea was unmarried and had no children. The Frank who recently died worked for 40 years in the telephone industry, retiring from Northwestern Bell, and is survived by two daughters and a son.
"He loved his country, loved his family, loved his faith," said daughter Mary Jo. "He packed a lot into his 91 years."
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