John M. Vernarelli dies at age 80

Military police officer who served in Korea and Vietnam who later became a chef

August 19, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

John M. Vernarelli, who served in both Korea and Vietnam as a military police officer and later had a second career as a chef, died Saturday of lung cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care.

The Perry Hall resident was 80.

Mr. Vernarelli, one of 14 children of Italian immigrant parents, was born at home on East Chase Street.

When he was 16, he tried to enlist in the Army, until an older sister and military authorities learned his actual age and he was sent home from Fort Meade to Baltimore.

"The next year, on March 27, 1947 — one day after his 17th birthday — he enlisted," said a nephew, Mark Vernarelli, who is a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correction Services.

Mr. Vernarelli remained in the Army for the next 24 years, which included three tours of wartime duty in Korea and later Vietnam.

As a military police officer, he spent the majority of his career traveling across the nation and overseeing the guarding of American munitions that were being shipped to overseas bases.

His decorations included two Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit, Korean and Vietnam Service medals and the Army and NATO commendation medals.

"My uncle was a fine, morally upright man who loved the Army and serving his country," his nephew said. "He followed two older brothers into military service and enjoyed every day of it."

While stationed at Fort Devans, Mass., Mr. Vernarelli met and fell in love with the former Jane Illsley, who worked for the provost marshal. They married in 1961.

While in the Army, Mr. Vernarelli earned his General Educational Development diploma and later attended Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va.

After being discharged from the Army in 1971, Mr. Vernarelli and his wife settled in Northern Virginia, where he launched a second career as a chef.

"He liked cooking and his friend, Tom Weston, who owned Tom Weston's in Annandale, said he needed a chef for a while, so my husband took the job and stayed 10 years," Mrs. Vernarelli said.

He also had cooked at Vinnie's in Fairfax, Va.

"At home," Mrs. Vernarelli said, "he liked cooking seafood and one of his specialties was Seafood Norfolk."

The couple, who returned to Baltimore in 1987, later settled in Perry Hall.

Mr. Vernarelli, who never lost his love for the Army, enjoyed visiting military bases where his two daughters, who had married career military officers, lived.

He also enjoyed fishing and traveling.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Wednesday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Fullerton.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Vernarelli is survived by two daughters, Carla Hein of Andrews Air Force Base and Christa Lippert of Fort Benning, Ga.; two sisters, Edith Ireland of Baltimore and Mary Toutloff of Arbutus; and six grandchildren.

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