By Cary Shuman
Ernest “Ernie” Deeb, a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran of World War II and retired Boston firefighter, died on July 5.
He was 97 years old.
Deeb and his wife, the late Rose Nassif, lived at 287 Shawmut Ave. in the South End for many years and raised their four sons, Ernie, Billy, Bobby, and Sammy in the three-story building that had a family-owned variety store on the first floor. They lived in what was the heart of a now mostly-forgotten Lebanese community in the Eight Streets neighborhood by Peters Park. Aside from the excellent Syrian Grocery importing that remains on the street, there are few vestiges of what was once a strong, vocal and powerful community.
For the Deeb family, a sign bearing their name still remains though.
The corner of Shawmut Avenue and Hanson Street was named “Deeb Corner” in 2007 in a tribute to Ernest Deeb’s heroism in the war and his 31 years of outstanding service in the Boston Fire Department as a firefighter and inspector.
Deeb was the last surviving member of the United States Army’s 150th Combat Battalion, an all-New England outfit. He fought through six major European campaigns, including “The Invasion of Normandy” and “The Battle of the Bulge.”
Deeb and his fellow soldiers served under the command of General George S. Patton, and along with surviving members of his Battalion, later received “The Presidential Unit Citation” from President Harry Truman for their contributions to the war effort and many outstanding achievements.
Growing up in the South End
Ernest Deeb was the son of Shaheen and Zahee Deeb, who immigrated from Lebanon through Ellis Island in the early 1900s. He was the youngest of four children and had two brothers Jim and Nat, and a sister, Alice, who were all born in Boston.
The family settled in the South End. Deeb attended Mechanic Arts High School. His brothers attended Boston English High School, which was also located in the South End at the time.
“My grandparents had a little grocery store downstairs in the brick building and they took in roomers and rented rooms for $2 a week and that’s how they earned a living,” said Deeb’s son, Ernie. “My grandfather also worked in a shoe factory.”
Deeb and his siblings helped out at the family store and joined their mother in taking good care of the roomers who lived above the store.
“They would feed the residents and clean the rooms,” said Ernie Deeb. “A lot of these folks didn’t have any place to go and didn’t have a lot of money, so my grandparents would rent the rooms by the week for them. It was really something back then.”
Ernest Deeb met Rose Nassif, who lived on nearby Bradford Street in the South End. Ernest Deeb and Rose Nassif got married and lived in the home at 287 Shawmut Ave. where they raised their four children.
Interestingly, Deeb’s son, Ernie also met his wife, Deb, who grew up on Hanson Street, in the South End.
“It was a very close-knit neighborhood and it was kind of a melting pot,” recalled Ernie. “People from all sorts of backgrounds migrated to the South End. Everybody seemed to know each other. It was a great place to grow up. There was nothing like the South End. I attended the John J. Williams Elementary School on Shawmut Avenue and the Abraham Lincoln School. The [Williams] school burned down and Peters Park is now located there.”
City honors Ernest Deeb
In a tribute to his heroism during World War II and his service in the Boston Fire Department, the City honored Deeb in 2007 by naming the corner of Shawmut Avenue and Hanson Street “Deeb Corner.” On June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, the City Council proclaimed it “Ernest Deeb Day” in the City of Boston. During his firefighting career, Deeb was stationed in the South End, Brighton, the Back Bay, and Charlestown. In an act of bravery, Deeb rescued a 3-year-old child from a burning building in Charlestown, saving the child’s life.
In 1984, the Deeb family moved to Winthrop where other relatives were living at the time. The Deeb family continue to live in Winthrop and to thrive there.