Waltham - Long before he turned 21, Waltham's Bill Bearisto had already lived nine lives.
In April, 1943 he left his senior year of high school in Boston to join the United States Army. By November of that year he was trained up, issued a weapon and put on a troop ship headed to England where he became part of the 110th Infantry Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division.
After landing at Normandy in June, 1944 his unit saw action in Northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes and in Central Europe. Trained as a forward artillery observer it was his job to make sure that friendly rounds landed on enemy positions and to call back for fire whenever the groaning sounds of distant diesel engines meant that German Panzer and Tiger tanks were soon to enter the fray.
On Saturday, December 16, 1944 Hitler unleashed what remained of his western armies on advancing Allied troops in what later became known as the 'Battle of the Bulge'. When the fog lifted the morning after, Bill's small band of brothers, totaling eleven men was entirely surrounded by German troops. There began four months of captivity that included 421 miles of forced marches in summer clothing between three POW camps.
Liberation came via the arrival of British troops to the camp near Hamburg where Bill was held. By then he was down to 89 pounds and suffered from various maladies. Among other decorations Bill was awarded the Purple Heart.
Like so many of his generation he came home from the war and for the next thirty-five plus years never really talked about his experiences . . . and then only after his wife Ethel signed him up for membership in the American Ex-Prisoners of War organization.
Once back home Bill went to various vocational schools under the GI Bill to become a master pipe fitter and licensed refrigeration contractor. In 1947 he began working for Ace Service, Inc., a Needham food service equipment company that he and Ethel bought in 1976. The pair also helped to establish the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association.
Married in 1948, Bill and Arlington native Ethel M. (Walsh) Bearisto moved to Waltham three years later and remained lifelong residents. Ethel died at the start of the pandemic on May 4, 2020 and Bill missed her every day since.
Bill's long involvement with POW groups earned him the respect and admiration of his fellow veterans including Senator John McCain with whom he collaborated in the final design for the black and white POW/MIA flags now commonly seen as a reminder to never forget those left behind.
He was the past commander of the state and national American Ex-Prisoners of War Foundation.
Mr. William E. Bearisto, of Waltham, died on Friday, March 5, 2021 at the E.N. Rogers Memorial Veteran's Hospital in Bedford. He was 96.
Born on July 7, 1924 in West Roxbury, Bill was one of four children born to the late Ernest and Johanna (Becker) Bearisto.
In addition to his parents, awaiting his arrival in Heaven was his beloved wife, Ethel, and his brother and sister, Richard Bearisto and Ruth Williams.
He leaves his children, Robert Bearisto of Williamsburg, Virginia, Paul Bearisto of Chelmsford and Mabel Jannini (John) of Sharon; his brother, David Bearisto of Jensen Beach, Florida; four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, one great-grandchild and many nieces, nephews and their families.
Family and friends will honor and remember Bill's life by gathering for calling hours in The Joyce Funeral Home, 245 Main Street (Rte. 20), Waltham on Thursday, March 11th from 3 to 7 p.m.
A Funeral Mass will be celebrated for Bill and Ethel in their lifelong parish church, Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted, 880 Trapelo Road, Waltham, on Friday, March 12th at 10 a.m. Burial in Massachusetts National Cemetery, Bourne will be private.
To view Bill's Mass please visit https://my.gather.app/remember/william-bearisto at 10 a.m. on Friday morning.
Memorial donations may be made to Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted Church, 880 Trapelo Road, Waltham, MA 02452.
In a touching tribute from Bill's younger brother Dave, he adds:
William E, Bearisto (my brother) was truly "A Man of All Seasons."
As a "Prisoner of War" (POW) he lived the trials and horrors of the battlefield, but during times of peace, he promoted forgiveness and family.
Selected as Commander and Chief of the POW/MIA organization, Bill and Senator John McCain pursued veterans' benefits, and designed the famous POW/KIA flag. Bill led the design committee and Senator McCain got Congress to approve the flag and its status.
As I reminisced last night and today, I felt emptiness, sorrow, and sadness. However, behind this sorrow and sadness, I realized what great respect the world had for Bill.
True, we mourn his passing, but we would be remiss in our respect for Bill if we did not take time to reflect on the fullness of his life.
So many people knew Bill in so many different roles.
We saw him in the roles of:
a brother-in-law, and
as a friend,
as a Commander,
but most of all, I saw him as a loyal husband, father, and brother.
Based upon those roles, there are many words to describe Bill.
To me, I saw him as a man that had and used the God given attributes of:
an inner strength,
coupled with tenacity,
linked with convictions,
supported by values, and
an instilled confidence that radiated through a room.
He used his inner strengths to lead the family not by words, but by deeds and standards.
He used his tenacity and convictions to never give up on anything or anyone in which he believed – I am surely proof of that.
He used his confidence to communicate his convictions and values.
Moreover, because Bill applied these God given attributes, he stood taller, prouder, and cast a larger shadow then most men.
True, Bill personified the old expression "I did it my way" - and as we all know - he truly did things his way and it now seems he did things the right way.
If we can find any comfort in Bill's passing, it is to realize that he is now free from the pain and sicknesses that plagued him for so long.
For all of us – I thank God, for giving us Bill and allowing his path of life to briefly cross and enrich ours.
He will be deeply missed, but not forgotten.
Rest well Bill, for in the eyes of God - you have earned it.
David Bearisto 3/9/2021
A note from the funeral home pursuant to Governor Baker's recent order:
During times of uncertainty and crisis one might wonder what to do at the loss of a loved one or how to show support to a friend given the limitations that the pandemic continues to present.
Telephone your friend to offer words of love and support, give them a virtual hug, drop something delicious by the house, leave a condolence on the funeral home website, make a donation to their favored charity, send a card or flowers or have a Mass said, remain in touch, and above all else . . . say prayers for the deceased and their family and the world during this difficult and unprecedented time.
These simple gifts of sympathy and charity are more valuable than you will ever know.
When public wakes are held capacity limits mean that your visit should be brief to allow other guests time to say hello to the family. Only members of the immediate family remain present throughout.
It goes without saying that people who have lost someone are especially sensitive and understanding to the concerns that some of their own family members and friends may have about visiting any public places right now. If this does not feel like the right time for you to venture out please don't.
Space limitations also mean that funeral services inside the funeral home and in many places of worship will also be private. Most services, at the family's request, will also be livestreamed and recorded for future viewing. The link to access the channel is found at the bottom of the obituary notice online.
Cemetery services are included in the current outdoor gathering limit of twenty-five people.
During any events, public or private, common sense precautions prevail. That includes masks covering your nose and mouth, staying with your household group throughout the services and keeping a sensible distance.
Thank you . . . again . . . for your patience and understanding.