Many of the men who survived the tragic events of December 7, 1941 would spend their lives recounting the trials of not just that day, but the War in the Pacific that followed. In early September, 2018, America lost one of those men with the passing of 98-year-old James Bilotta. The Derry, NH resident was the town’s oldest citizen, and as such was holder of Derry’s Boston Post Cane, an honor bestowed on the oldest resident of many New England towns. Beyond the golden-headed cane, Bilotta leaves behind an abundance of stories of his life, including the tragic events of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
James Bilotta’s Military Service
Bilotta’s service with the Marines started two years before Japan launched the assault on Pearl Harbor. At the time, he was 19 years old and though more than 75 years passed, he never forgot the details of that tragic Sunday morning.
In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, James Bilotta was enjoying his breakfast when he looked up to see plumes of black smoke rising over Pearl Harbor. It didn’t take long to realize something was wrong, and soon enough his ears provided further confirmation of what was unfolding. “We heard the machine guns firing and bombs dropping,” he wrote in an unpublished personal memoir. “It was terrible. It was an awful mess.”
Having survived the events of December 7, James Bilotta continued his service with the Marines through World War II. He was honorably discharged in December of 1945. He returned to Massachusetts with stories to tell and medals to display. Not long after leaving the service, Bilotta’s life changed when he met Edith Luna, the woman who would later become his wife.
James Bilotta, Family Man
“A couple of friends and I chummed together,” he wrote. “One night we went to a dance that was held at the Lowe’s State Ballroom.” It was there that he locked eyes with Edith. The two were married and in 1985 they moved to Derry, where they lived ever since.
Although James Bilotta has passed on, his memory will live on through his wife of 71 years and their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even a couple of great-great-grandchildren. Those who knew him best, among them Derry’s Chief of Police Edward Garone, a Marine Corps veteran, and John Potucek, a Vietnam veteran, remembered Bilotta as “kind” and “humble,” and considered knowing him as being its own honor.
Among many other civic honors, James Bilotta served as grand marshal for Derry’s Memorial Day parade in 2015.