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Miami Dolphins to honor Watertown man, 99, a veteran of two wars

Watertown Daily Times - 1/6/2024

Jan. 6—WATERTOWN — Many members of the Alteri family are like fish out of water because of their fandom of the Miami Dolphins National Football League team, here in the land of Giants, Bills and Jets.

Dolphins fan and Navy Lt. Santino Alteri, a 2012 graduate of Immaculate Heart Central, developed a Dolphins'-related idea to honor his 99-year-old grandfather and decided to go long with it.

His grandfather is Querino August ("Augie") Alteri, 99, Cedar Avenue, a Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War. Between the wars, he served in the reserves.

"I've been thinking about this for a couple of years now, knowing he's 99-years-old and trying to do something to get him recognized," Santino said. "After multiple attempts, I finally got through to the Dolphins front office and they said, 'We'd love to honor your grandfather at a game.'"

That recognition is scheduled to occur on Sunday night when the Dolphins play the Buffalo Bills during NFL week 18, the league's final week and final game of the 2023-24 season. It will be an NBC and Peacock "Sunday Night Football" broadcast.

The Dolphins will honor Augie in a brief on-field ceremony.

"My grandfather will be brought onto the field with five of us before the start of the second quarter," Santino said. Eight family members were to leave for Miami on Friday.

When Augie and other family members spoke about the trip on Dec. 12, they didn't know what a key matchup Sunday's game would be for both teams.

Although Miami (11-5) has clinched a playoff spot and the Bills (10-6) have not, Sunday's game will be for the AFC East championship.

Alec White, content coordinator for the Buffalo Bills official website, outlined the ways the team can clinch a playoff spot:

"If the Bills are not able to beat Miami, then they'll need one of the following to secure a playoff berth: a tie or loss by the Steelers, a tie or loss from the Jaguars, or a tie in the Texans-Colts matchup."

The Bills will know more of their fate at Sunday's 8:20 p.m. kickoff.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) play the Baltimore Ravens (13-3) at 4:30 tonight; the Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) play the Tennessee Titans (5-11) at 1 p.m. Sunday and the Houston Texans take on the Indianapolis Colts (both at 9-7) at 8:15 tonight.

"It's pretty funny considering we're from Watertown," Santino said of the nature of Sunday's game in regards to the Bills. "They said, 'All you've got to worry about is getting down here to Miami.' They'll do the whole on-field recognition prior to the second quarter."

Joining Augie and Santino on the field will be Augie's sons Paul, Michael and Mark.

Santino joined the Navy in 2016. He starred in baseball and football at IHC and last year was inducted in the school's athletic hall of fame. He played baseball at the University of Mount Olive in North Carolina, before transferring to St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where he earned bachelor and master degrees.

He said his grandfather inspired him to join the Navy. "I played baseball in college, got my bachelor and master degrees and I was going to go to law school," he said. "I had a sudden change of heart at that point and said I was going to join the service. Obviously, he's the only reason I decided to join the Navy. He's an inspiration and my hero. My father (Paul) wanted to go into the Navy as well but unfortunately, too many broken bones and the Navy said negative."

Santino went to Officers Training Command, Newport, Rhode Island, where he was commissioned as an ensign. He was first stationed at Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Chafee, a guided-missile destroyer. Santino served as the electrical officer and key management infrastructure officer aboard the Chafee for three years. He was then transferred to San Diego, where he was assigned to the USS Cincinnati.

In 2022, Santino, still active duty, enrolled at Purdue Research Military Institute in Indiana to earn a doctorate degree in cyber security. He's now on semester break, and when he finishes up at PRMI next December, he'll head to Newport for six months of training before being assigned to his next task. He'd like to be an operations officer on a destroyer based at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida.

"The weird thing is that my doctorate won't do anything for me in the military," Santino said. "It's totally separate. It's just for me to have."

Double veteran

His grandfather is a rarity. In November, Pew Research Center, in the article, "The Changing Face of America's Veteran Population," reported that approximately 767,000 veterans who served during the Korean conflict are alive today, making up 4% of all living veterans. Pew reported that fewer than 120,000 World War II veterans are alive today, making up less than 1% of all living veterans.

Augie turns 100 on Sept. 6. His wife, Ida Jane (Spaziani) Aleri, died in August 2021 at the age of 87. Her father was Silverio Spaziani, son of Gaetano Spaziani and Ida Nagni Spaziani. Gaetano founded Spaziani's Bakery in 1907.

In 1971, Romeo Bakery, opened by Vincent Romeo in 1931 behind his home at 634 Prospect St., was sold to Augie and his wife.

"My mother, her side of the family, the Spaziani side, were the bakers before he opened up the business," Paul said. The legacy continues at Alteri's Italian American Market on Bradley Street, which opened in 2020. Alteri Bakery has been known for its popular Italian bread for decades. Master baker Mark S. Alteri is a fourth generation baker.

Augie is a native of Utica and graduated from Proctor High School in that city. He enlisted in the service and served in the Navy during World War II from 1943 to 1946 and in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952. He served on ships in both wars: a tender in World War II and an oil tanker during the Korean War. He recalled that his ship was sunk in the Pacific in the later stages of World War II and that he was sent to San Diego to recover from his wounds.

Augie is no stranger to Florida. Some trips to the state were associated with baseball.

"When I was coaching JCC baseball, I had recruits from Miami who'd come up and play," Paul said. "Over the years, we kept in touch. Because of that, we used to take our spring trip to Florida so my players could see their families and we'd play. And I always took my dad with me."

"Those were good trips," Augie said.

The upcoming Dolphins-related trip will also have a JCC baseball connection.

"When this hooked up, I got hold of some of my players down there and they all know my father," Paul said. "So, they're all going to meet us outside the (Hard Rock) stadium and have a big tailgating party. We haven't seen each other in years and they haven't seen my father in years."

The Alteri family's devotion to the Miami Dolphins can be traced back to NFL Hall of Famer Larry Csonka, who played at Syracuse University. He played middle linebacker in his first season before being switched to fullback from 1965 — 67. He established many of the school's rushing records, including some previously held by Ernie Davis, Jim Nance, Floyd Little and Jim Brown. In 1989, he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Csonka, a native of Ohio, was the number one pick of the American Football League'sMiami Dolphins in the 1968 Common Draft, the eighth player and first running back drafted in the first round. From 1970 to 1974 Csonka never missed a game, and led the Dolphins in rushing on into 1975. His Dolphins won the Super Bowl in 1973 and 1974. He retired after the 1979 season and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1987. "He was a Dolphins fan because he followed Larry Csonka when he was at SU," Paul said. "He got drafted by the Dolphins and that made him a Dolphins fan and made me a lifelong Dolphins fan as well."

"We're outsiders," Santino said. "We live in New York but we like the Dolphins."

Their loyalty to the team was further cemented by the career of quarterback Dan Marino, who played for the Dolphins for 17 season, retiring in 2000. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2005. Marino, a native of Pittsburgh, was born to parents of Italian and Polish origins.

Paul threw a Hail Mary involving Csonka, Marino and the family's upcoming trip to Miami.

"I put in a request to get Larry Csonka and Dan Marino, to see if there was any chance they could meet my father," he said.

In an email, Csonka spokeswoman Audrey Bradshaw told the Times, "Larry does not live in Miami and he hasn't heard anything from the Dolphins regarding this. But we hope Querino and his family enjoy the game and we thank him for his service!"

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