William B. Purpura Sr., 89, restaurant chef, cook on ships in World War II

July 18, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William B. Purpura Sr., a former ship's cook who survived four torpedo attacks during World War II and later became a chef at the famed Meadowbrook in Cedar Grove, N.J., died of cancer Friday at the Veterans Medical Center in downtown Baltimore. He was 89 and lived at Elkridge Estates in North Baltimore.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., to immigrant parents from Sicily, Mr. Purpura was reared in Passaic, N.J. He dropped out of school when he was 16, lied about his age and joined the Navy in 1928.

Mr. Purpura was a cook aboard the cruiser USS Galveston, the last coal-fired warship in the Navy. He later sailed in the same capacity aboard the battleship USS Pennsylvania, and participated in the Nicaraguan campaign.

After being discharged from the Navy, he went to work in 1934 aboard Standard Oil Co. tankers. With the outbreak of World War II, he joined the merchant marine and continued to serve as a cook aboard tankers.

Mr. Purpura survived four attacks by German submarines, one of which resulted in his ship being sunk.

"Three ships limped to port, and one was sunk off Naples. When a ship was hit, and there was nothing more dangerous than being on an oil tanker, they dropped out of the convoy, which couldn't stop," said his son, William B. Purpura Jr., an attorney who lives in the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County.

"He even slept through one of the attacks because, he said, that had become so common," the son said.

During World War II, Mr. Purpura sailed in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East.

Discharged with the rank of lieutenant, he returned to Standard Oil, where he continued to sail on tankers out of New York City until 1954, when he gave up the sea.

"By then he had me and my mother wanted him on land," said the son, laughing.

In 1945, Mr. Purpura married Theresa Kudro, who died in 1995.

Then living in Nutley, N.J., Mr. Purpura went to work as chef at Frank Dailey's Meadowbrook in Cedar Grove, N.J., a famous big-band venue of the 1930s and 1940s, where such personalities and bands as Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey performed.

In 1974, he became chef at Rutt's Hut in Clifton, N.J., where he worked until he moved to Baltimore in the early 1990s.

Mr. Purpura, who refused to retire and was still employed at the time of his death, worked at the County Club of Maryland as a golf attendant and bagged groceries at Eddie's of Roland Park's North Charles Street market.

"He was one tough guy. He loved working and lent a hand constantly to people. And he nearly made his 90th birthday," said the son.

Mr. Purpura was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Nutley.

He is survived by his son and two grandchildren.

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