Joseph Laterra of Sauga Point, North Kingstown, RI passed away on Sunday December 20, 2020.
Born in Providence on February 16, 1941. Joe was the youngest of four children, born to Joseph and Elisabetta (Autiello) Laterra, immigrants from Sicily and Naples, respectively. He attended Hope High School in Providence and completed his undergraduate degree from The University of Rhode Island in 1963. He continued on to achieve an M.S. in Zoology in 1968 with the desire to teach in the field of Biology and Physiology.
Along the way he developed a passionate lifestyle that was instrumental in his success as a Marine, an educator, a ship captain, an adventurer, a leader, and most notably, a devoted father, a loving grandfather, and a decorated hero. At a young age he instinctively pursued the art of sailing which developed into a lifelong love of adventure on the water. His meticulous knowledge of the eastern seaboard coupled with his ardent desire to explore afforded him an incredible joy, which he shared with all that knew him.
Joe was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve following completion of his undergraduate studies from URI. At the conclusion of Basic Infantry Officer Training at MCB Quantico VA, he was assigned to the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton CA, where he served as Infantry Platoon Commander in the 7th Marine Regiment. He deployed to Vietnam in May of 1965, assigned to Platoon Commander with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in DaNang. In this position he led many patrols through enemy territory gathering valuable intelligence. During one of these watches Joe was wounded by enemy fire. He recovered to serve again, awarded the Purple Heart Medal of Honor. He was highly respected for his courage under fire and his outstanding leadership. In the summer of 1966 Joe was discharged from active duty but continued to serve in the Marine Reserves. He did so for the next 27 years while carrying out such duties as; Transportation Officer in Providence RI, Intelligence Officer and Executive Officer of the 25th Marine Regiment in Worcester, MA. and finally serving as Military Advisor to the 7th Naval Construction Regiment (Seabees). Recognized for excellence, Joe concluded his career with United States Marine Corps, retiring Colonel in 1993.
Joe’s natural ability to lead, along with his passion to share knowledge, neatly transitioned to civilian capacity as an educator. He began his tenure in the Science Department at East Greenwich High School in 1968, rising to Department Head before his retirement in 1994. His instrumental methods and techniques captivated his students through a curriculum filled with trust, discipline, skill, and precision. For years following his departure from the school system, his students would approach him regularly and share how their lives had been impacted by him. Joe continued to shape the lives of many through his term at Rocky Hill, Christian Brothers Academy, H.H. Ellis Technical High School, and Grasso Southeastern Technical High School. This final role was where he met his wife Susan.
For several years, Joe volunteered at the Abbey of San Vincenzo al Volturno, located in the Molise region of Italy. He enjoyed the challenge of construction, planning and engineering, along with repair projects that improved the beauty and functionality of the ancient Abbey. He enjoyed a variety of Space A excursions to Guam, Italy, Germany, Spain, England, and France. Joe enjoyed every facet of the journey. The adventure of “getting there and back home again” was as important as the experience he would encounter during each trip.
Over the course of many years, Joe thrived while coastal cruising in his various sailboats from Maine to Virginia. Always ready to lend a helping hand to other cruisers he encountered along the way, ultimately creating an even larger network of friends who shared in the love of sailing. To him, the ocean was a member of the family, and with Joe as headmaster, the sea and shoreline our greatest teacher.
He is survived by his wife Susan Yacovino, his son Stephen Laterra (Chelsey) of Avon, Colorado, his daughters Christina Wilson (Ryan) of Brentwood, TN, and Marissa Laterra of Warwick, as well as, his former spouse, Barbara Laterra of Narragansett, and three grandchildren; Tess, Rowan, and Lane Wilson of Brentwood, TN. He was predeceased by his two sisters Adeline McGuirk, and Lucy Pettinato, and a brother, Salvatore Laterra.
The family plans a memorial service in the warmer months of spring when the wind is steady out of the west with the ship on a beam reach. His heading set for Sauga Point, a favorable tide, and the sun kissing his face. His home port of call awaits. Contributions in his memory can be made to Disabled American Veterans at dav.org or sent to:VA Regional Office 380 Westminster Street Providence, RI 02903.
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