- By Terri Jo Ryan
Joseph the Magician can turn food stamps into $100 bills and transport ketchup bottles through solid wood while entertaining at Damon's restaurant (Now at Crabby Nick's).
But there was one trick he just couldn't do - conjure up his real father out of thin air. That is, until now.
In an emotional reunion June 12 at Savannah's airport, the Hilton Head magician, Joseph Vincent Lawski, 48, met his father, Joseph Vincent Longo, 77, who had flown in for a Father's Day never to be forgotten.
"I couldn't ask for a happier day," Longo said, as he embraced the son he left behind in Germany as a toddler after World War II.
Joseph didn't even know he was adopted until, as a 22-year-old, he entered the U.S. Navy and was denied the computer duty he sought. He wasn't even an American citizen, he was told, and his security clearance was denied.
His family first came to the United States in 1960, he said, with the man who raised him, Stanley Lawski, whom his mother Gertrude had married a decade earlier. Though he had a Polish last name, people were always telling him he had Italian features and mannerisms.
After asking his mother for the truth about his origins, he learned that he was actually the son of American GI Joseph Vincent Longo, who had been the head of U.S. Constabulary at Coburg after the second World War. Longo had worked with the magician's grandfather, Carl Luttinger, a German police officer, hunting AWOL soldiers and hidden Nazis. The police officer's daughter was Gertrude, a former bomb-maker. During World War II, Gertrude Ruttinger was married to a Luftwaffe pilot named Sakwa, and had a son with him before the pilot was declared missing-in-action after being shot down over the Soviet Union. The magician's mother fell in love with Longo and had his son.
Longo did not marry the German woman at the time, because he was still married - he thought - to a woman in Colombia, SC whom he had wed to win a $5 dollar bet.
Longo said he didn't want to be a bigamist - but by the time he found out from the Red Cross that he'd been divorced for 2 years from the South Carolina woman, he'd already broken up with Joseph's mom.
In a recent interview, Longo said he wanted to set up a trust fund for Gertrude's first son, Heinrich, but she refused the conditions that he set. He was transferred back tot he states and tried to keep track of his son from afar, but then Lawski adopted two boys and their last name changed. With the trail cold, Longo gave up the search.
Meanwhile, as Joseph grew up as an Army brat in Germany and the United States, he said he was envious of kids with big families. Once he discovered he was adopted, he especially felt the need to track down the other half of the family equation.
But he didn't get serious about the search until a few months ago when he saw several TV lake shows that pumped up stories of happy reunions with long lost loved ones. The Social Security Administration helped put him in contact with Longo.
When Longo received the query letter from Joseph, he said, "I knew he had to be my son. I didn't waste no time calling him."
He called May 22, and they spoke 90 minutes that first time, Joseph said. Longo has called every day since.
After the airport reunion last week, the two men and their spouses planned a week of activities to include a lot of dining out, a dolphin-watching trip, and rounds of golf at Hilton Head miniature golf courses.
"Yeah, I'm really out to impress the old man, Joseph said.
At long last, Joseph Lawski's curiosity about the family he longed for but never knew is being satisfied. His dad was one of 15 children, 7 whom are still alive. His father's mom died in 1983 at age 103. His dad, he said, never had another child of his own, but adopted the kids of his
lawski's "instant" family of uncles, aunts and cousins by the bushel basket are going to have a family reunion in his honor in late August in Syracuse, N.Y., the Longo family home.
Longo is married to a Brazilian named Maria, and lives in Las Vegas doing golf course maintenance.
The circle of love continues in the Lawski family. Although Joseph Lawski has fathered no children of his own, he adopted and raised the daughter of his wife, Eloise, a native of San Diego.
Mrs. Lawski, who married the magician 15 years ago, said, "He'd always had a heavy heart, he felt something missing in his life. I come from a large Italian family, and he wanted that feeling too."
For his search, Joseph Lawski started with the military information given to him by his mother, and by a friend who knew a congressman in New York where his father was born.
back to top