DERRY — The community has lost a man of service.
World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor James Bilotta, 98, died Sunday and is being remembered as a kind, gentle man and never without a kind word.
That, according to police Chief Edward Garone, a fellow Marine Corps veteran, is why it was an honor to know him.
"Jim, my friend, the Marine Pearl Harbor survivor, will be greatly missed by me and many others who had the privilege of knowing him," Garone said.
Bilotta was also Derry's Boston Post Cane holder, honored as the town's oldest citizen and one of only a handful of remaining World War II veterans in town.
He enlisted as a young at 19 in 1939 and landed at Pearl Harbor only a month before the attack by the Japanese in December 1941.
Bilotta often vividly recalled that morning as a 21-year-old Marine, witnessing those first bombs falling. He would tell the stories through the years about looking up while eating breakfast and seeing puffs of black smoke everywhere.
“We heard the machine guns firing and bombs dropping and then we were assigned to our duty stations,” he wrote in his lengthy, unpublished personal memoir. “It was terrible. It was an awful mess."
Bilotta remained in the Marines for another six years after that attack before heading back to New England with many medals for his service, including those for good conduct, World War II Victory, the American Defense Campaign, Asiatic Pacific Campaign with three stars, and expertise with a rifle and pistol.
It was after that he began socializing and that led to a meeting with future wife, Edith Luna.
“A couple of friends and I chummed around together,” Bilotta wrote. “One night we went to a dance that was held at the Lowes State Ballroom that was located on Mass Avenue in Boston.”
The couple eventually married, lived in Massachusetts for many years but moved to Maine in 1982, purchasing a home for $40,000. After two years, they decided to move south to be closer to family and friends.
The couple eventually moved to Derry in 1985.
“We used to come to Derry and stay at Beaver Lake for our vacation time,” Bilotta wrote. “Little did we realize we would spend the rest of our lives here.”
Local Vietnam veteran John Potucek said Derry has lost one of its greatest generation.
"I only met Jim once, but Jim kind of reminded me of my Dad, a World War II Marine who enlisted after Pearl Harbor," Potucek said. "Jim and my Dad were indeed the 'Greatest Generation,' growing up during the Depression, making due with whatever they had, sharing it with others and asking nothing in return."
Bilotta's humble, simple life was evident.
During his years living in Derry, he welcomed visitors to his Al Street home and spoke of great friends he made during military service and beyond.
Bilotta kept a detailed box holding aged newspaper articles and clippings, photos and programs from events that honored World War II veterans, including local Veterans Day and Memorial Day services in Derry. Bilotta was named grand marshal of Derry’s Memorial Day parade in 2015.
"He was easy to like," Garone added. "Edith, his wife of many years was such a supporter of his and what he stood for. It was incredible to watch the two of them."
Garone said a favorite memory of Bilotta included a seaplane and B-47 bomber.
"My favorite memory of the couple was stuffing them into Charlie Evans' seaplane for a ride to an airport in Massachusetts so they could ride back to Manchester in a World War II B-47 bomber," Garone said. "What a day."
Bilotta noted on the final pages of his life story that the years had been good.
“One thing I must say is that I have had a very good life and I don’t believe I would change any of it,” he said. “I married a wonderful woman and I have wonderful children. What other man can be that blessed?”