New Haven WWII Veteran, 91, Realizes Painting Dream

NEW HAVEN -- When Ralph Milione's painting finally received the framing he sought, he couldn't really see what became of his work.

Milione, 91, remembers what his vibrant rendition of Michaelangelo's Pieta looks like, but seeing the new frame is another task entirely. His eyesight is fading, so he held up his hands to use them as eyes. The World War II veteran dragged his hands along the golden frame to feel the tiny ridges and determine the fit was right.

"I touched it. I touched the frame and know what it's like," Milione said. "It's a spiral then a straight edge then spirals."

The work was completed by Framed in Hamden, with the frame itself paid for by donations received by Milione following a Register story on his effort to get his painting framed. Two donations from East Haven attorneys Patricia Cofrancesco and Andrew Amendola helped pay for the frame, though Milione said he received donations from others, as well.

Milione would like to have the painting, which now hangs in a bedroom in his home, hung in local churches. Liz Hellwig, owner at Framed, said it took just a few days to frame the painting. Hellwig had previously helped Milione stretch the canvas to prepare it for framing.

"It was an important piece for him and we wanted to make sure that it was framed to look its best," Hellwig said. "The piece was 57 (inches) by 65 (inches), it was huge."

After reading the Register story, Cofrancesco said Milione's name sounded familiar. She wasn't immediately aware that she already owned a piece by Milione, who grew up with Cofrancesco's father, Anthony, in New Haven.

"I think he's hugely talented," Cofrancesco said. "I didn't realize it until I talked to him, but he had already presented me with one of his paintings, which now hangs in my living room."

Cofrancesco first met Milione during a ceremony honoring veterans at Conte-West Hills Magnet School. A few days after the ceremony, whose honorees included Milione and Anthony Cofrancesco, Cofrancesco said Milione showed up to her office to give her the painting.

"It's obvious that he loves what he does and that's keeping him active," Cofrancesco said. "That seems to be the ticket for everybody."

As Memorial Day nears, Milione, who served in the U.S. Navy during WWII, has some other gifts he wishes to share. Some advice, the kind only a man that's lived as long as he has can share. For Milione, and surely thousands of other veterans, Memorial Day is an opportunity to join citizens in remembering the sacrifice made by their friends.

"When I get up in the morning Memorial Day, I kneel down and I pray the good Lord to protect and I pray for all the boys that passed away in all the wars," Milione said. "I pray for their souls and say that not only for the boys that have passed away in the present ... Middle East conflict."

His advice for others is to visit a veteran on that day, to ask them about their experiences.

"Go talk to him. Spend a couple hours with a veteran," Milione said. "A lot of them are waiting to tell their stories, but nobody has asked them."

Milione said that recognizing Memorial Day doesn't necessarily require expressing faith. He doesn't expect everyone to follow his example. He said when he prays, he does so for the buried servicemen and women interred in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and in Pearl Harbor, and in foreign places like London and Paris.

"I believe they are heroes, that me, myself, I owe them so much (of) my life," Milione said. "Without them giving their life, I wouldn't be here alive today. And I thank God and I thank all the faithful veterans who passed away giving up their youth, at 18, 17 years of age. Their entire life so I could survive."

Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901. ___

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