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GAIL WHITE Like father, like son: a happy, belated ending



Published: Fri, April 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



When Lou LaCava of Austintown was 19, he fell in love.

He met a young woman at a Cleveland neighborhood pool in 1956, where he was a lifeguard.

That fall, Lou enlisted in the Navy.

The following year, when Lou was on leave from the USS Piedmont, he married that young woman from the pool.

Then, Lou received orders to serve overseas in Guam.

His young bride was pregnant when he left. Daniel Dalton LaCava was born May 20, 1958, while Lou was in Guam. It would be five months before Lou would hold him.

When Lou's tour of duty was over, Dan was 1. Lou returned from Guam ready to enjoy family life.

But life at home had changed. The couple soon separated.

Separation: By the time little Dan was 3, his parents were divorced.

Lou re-enlisted in the Navy.

After returning from a yearlong tour in Antarctica on "Operation Deep Freeze," Lou traveled to Los Angeles, where his ex-wife and son were living when he left for duty.

They were not there.

"I got hold of the landlord, went to the post office," Lou recalls. "There was no forwarding address. She wasn't in the phone book."

In search: Thus, Lou began a 40-year journey in search of his son.

"I wrote to the Navy, requesting information about where my support checks were going," Lou explains.

The Navy could provide little assistance. Lou knew only that his checks were sent to a lawyer who forwarded them to his ex-wife.

Everywhere Lou was stationed, visited or simply passed through, he would check the phone book, looking for a clue to the whereabouts of his son.

Eventually, Lou was stationed in Youngstown, at the Naval Reserve Training Center.

It was here that he met Marie Fortunato.

Lou and Marie married and were blessed with two children.

"He was very honest from the beginning," Marie remembers. "He told me about Dan. He told me he hasn't seen him and doesn't know where he is."

The entire LaCava and Fortunato clan came to know about Dan. They spoke of him at holidays, wondering where he was, discussing how old he would be that year.

The entire family shared the yearning in Lou's heart.

Looking for answers: Meanwhile, Dan was growing up in California. He, too, had a yearning in his heart.

He had many questions about his father. He was given few answers.

At 14, Dan joined the Navy.

"It was during Vietnam," Dan said, laughing. "They [the Navy] were asking few questions."

He was halfway through boot camp before his mother found him. The secret of his age revealed, he returned home.

When Dan turned 18, his maternal grandmother showed him a picture of his father.

"She told me that my father loved me," Dan says with tears streaming down his face.

Dan began his own search for his father.

"I found Lou LaCavas in Louisiana, Washington and Florida," he says.

For several years after high school, Dan traveled the country.

"I thumbed my way across 48 states," he said. Like his father, he looked in phone books at every stop.

Search ends: Two weeks before Christmas 2001, the 40-year-long search ended.

Dan's wife wrote to a Lou LaCava in Youngstown. At last, it was the Lou LaCava that Dan longed to call Dad.

Thursday, March 28, 2002, is a day this father and son will never forget. It was the day Lou's yearning to hold his son ended.

Through tears, Dan says, "It feels like all the years have melted away."

Lou smiles, tears in his eyes. The years haven't melted away for him. He has 40 years of fathering to catch up on.

gwhite@vindy.com




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