To those who knew him, World War II veteran was a ball of fire.
“He was quite an outspoken guy. He said what he felt,” said Gus Scutari, a close friend of over 15 years.
In fact, the eldest member of the and the survived three-and-a-half grueling years of torture as a prisoner of war in various Philippine camps from 1942 to 1945.
But in an ongoing joke amongst friends, it was his captors that suffered.
“We always kidded about this at the parades-- that the Japanese couldn’t wait to send him home,” Scutari said.
“We said that they only had one condition when the war was over: ‘Just make sure you take Arnold back,” he said, in between laughs.
Bocksel, a longtime Syosset resident, recently passed away from natural causes. He was 97.
As one of the most well-known and respected World War II veterans on Long Island, and especially Syosset, Bocksel had been the guest of honor at various parties and became quite familiar with the tops of floats for many years.
“He would ride with the distinguished American Legion men,” said Ed Aulman, Commander of the .
It was perhaps his service to his country and the more than 50 year active devotion to the and the that justified his spot on the float each year.
“He did a lot of things with veterans," Scutari said. "He went everywhere. Whenever there was something going on, he would be there."
“Arnie was a guy that you just had to go out of your way for because he so often went out of his way for us," Aulman said.
Bocksel graduated from the State University of New York Maritime College in Throgs Neck. He then volunteered for the Army in 1941, when he was sent to Manila, Philippines. He became a chief engineer Army officer and spent many years, after the war, as a general sales manager of FMC Corporation. He retired in 1976.
A decorated war hero, Bocksel was awarded with the Purple Heart; Prisoner of War Medal; National Defense Medal; American Defense Medal with Foreign Service Clasp; Asiatic Pacific Medal with Bronze Star; WWII Victory Medal; American Campaign Medal; and Conspicuous Service Cross from New York State.
But Bocksel was also a published author, leaving behind his memoir, Rice, Men and Barbed Wire (Michael B. Glass & Associates, 1991), in which he chronicles the cruel treatments by his Japanese captors and explains how he survived by surrendering to his faith.
“It was eye opening at the time that I read it,” Aulman said. “He was treated so poorly and he managed to survive.”
Although many would disagree, Bocksel stated in a back in June that he doesn’t consider himself a hero. Instead, he said that we should always celebrate “those who gave up their tomorrows so we could have our today's.”
“He was small in stature but a giant of a man,” said daughter Merrie Hines, 62, who lived with Bocksel in Syosset.
“He loved us fiercely, protectively, and always. He treated us like he was our greatest gift, but truly, he was our greatest gift,” she said.
Bocksel loved woodworking and drinking imported beer, said Hines. With his beloved and late wife, Peggy, who died in 1984, Bocksel had four children, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
“He loved his family, God, and his country, in no particular order,” said Hines. “He was a true patriot.”