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HACKENSACK, N.J. (WCBS 880) – Joe Mongeli is a 97-year-old man on a mission: “save the submarine.”

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Vintage photo of Mongeli and his wife on leave during WWII. They have
been married for more than 70 years. (Photo credit: Joe Mongeli)

He was born in 1920 in West Hoboken, which is now known as Union City, and he lives in North Bergen, New Jersey, where he works full time delivering buses.

“No, I can’t stop. I love it. It gives me purpose, it’s something to do. I get up in the morning, I don’t go and sit down and watch the boob tube,” he tells WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “Most of my people, friends, they’ve all passed. They retire and goodbye, they’re gone. You’ve got to stay active. You’ve got to stay busy.”

Mongeli giving a tour of the USS Ling. (Photo credit: Joe Mongeli)

When he’s not working, he’s a tireless crusader for the USS Ling – a hard luck submarine and floating museum in the Hackensack River.

Mongeli volunteered for the Navy right after the attack on Pearl Harbor and requested submarine duty. He served on the USS Lapon for more then three years in the Pacific during World War II.

Admiral Styer awarding Mongelli the Navy Unit Commendation for their 6th war patrol. (Photo credit: Joe Mongelli)

It was a dangerous and deadly time.

“War is – killing anybody is horrible. I don’t care who it is, whether they’re an enemy or not,” he says. “There’s got to be another way to negotiate, anything.”

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Now, he’s fighting to honor those lives lost.

Mongeli giving a tour of the USS Ling. (Photo credit: Joe Mongeli)

“I want to keep the memorial going and see if we can raise enough money – no matter how, but it has to be through some kind of foundation – to make this a national historic site,” he says. “We feel very strongly about trying to make this submarine a memorial for all time, because this is a symbol of those men that lost their lives in WWII, and we’ve got to honor perpetually…”

“You know, it’s very, very sad, because if you’re really close to some sailors and they’re buddies of yours and you lost them. You know, you get kind of a lump in your throat most of the while when you think about,” he continues. “So the memorial is very, very important to us, and we’d like to sustain it and keep it going and save the submarine!”

Mongeli giving a tour of the USS Ling. (Photo credit: Joe Mongeli)

After more than four decades, the USS Ling’s property is slated to be redeveloped and the submarine has to find a new home — a process that will prove challenging and very expensive.

As Mongeli puts it, “Sandy knocked the hell out of it.” The hurricane filled the vessel with seven feet of water. Now, it needs to be dredged in order to move.

He is hoping someone with a big heart and deep pockets can help.

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“I’m not giving up for nothing, no. Not me, no,” he says. “As long as I’ve got a little breath in my body, I’m going to keep pushing and plugging and see what I can do.”