Legion provides World War II veteran with premiere vantage point for Indy 500
American Legion National Be The One Manager Tony Cross (left) talks with WWII U.S. Navy Veteran Francis Tuoti before the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 26. Photo by Hilary Ott / The American Legion

Legion provides World War II veteran with premiere vantage point for Indy 500

Before this year, World War II U.S. Navy veteran Francis Tuoti had never been to an Indianapolis 500 race. But thanks to a co-worker, that changed this year.

And when American Legion national staff learned that Tuoti was going to be in attendance at the race, they did what they could to enhance his experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).

A New York resident, Tuoti spent a long Sunday watching the race – weather delayed by four hours – from the comfort of one of the hospitality suites along the main straightaway at the world-famous oval track.

A National Guardsmen who sat near Tuoti and his friend Garrett Mossman during last Friday’s Carb Day, shared the story of the World War II veteran with American Legion staff working the organization’s Be the One activation display in the IMS Fan Midway.

Tuoti was able to spend some time talking with American Legion Be the One Program Manager Tony Cross on Friday. And when he arrived at the track on Sunday, he and Mossman were presented hospitality suite passes to watch Sunday’s race.

Tuoti said being recognized by the Legion and getting a chance to watch the Indy 500 from a suite made him feel “deeply honored. You’re recognized when, for a long time, you’re not recognized.”

Tuoti was born in New Rochelle, N.Y., but in 1926 his family built a summer home in North Salem, where Tuoti now lives, and – believe it or not – works. Since the 1980s, he’s served as a substitute teacher at North Salem Middle/High School, often working several days a week.

Tuoti had begun listening to the Indy 500 on the radio as a 10-year-old in the 1930s, but it was through his job he got a chance to attend in person. He said a fellow teacher, Heide DeMorris, “comes (to the Indy 500) every year. We got to talking, and she said, ‘Would you like to come this year?’ I said, ‘Of course.’ That’s something I never expected I’d be able to do.”

Tuoti served in the North Atlantic during World War II on several ships, including destroyers the USS MacLeish and USS Putnam, as well as on a troop transport. Later in life, he worked as an aeronautical engineer for General Electric for years before retiring but has managed to continue to stay busy over the years.

“I’ve always been very active in everything. I’ve been involved in a lot of the town committees and so forth,” he said. “Then I had the opportunity to go to the schools and I figured, ‘Well, maybe I can convey some thoughts to these young students. And that’s what I do. If they get their work done on time, I tell them a life story of mine. I have a lot of them.

“I tell them they’re not all stories that are exciting. Some of them just give you some idea on how to handle yourself in life.”

But the relationship between teacher and students is mutually beneficial.

“I get a real bang out of it,” Tuoti said. “I really enjoy the young folks. They’re good. They aren’t exactly like when I was (a kid).”