John Caterina Sr. was like many of his generation, a product of the Great Depression who fought in World War II and returned to the United States ready to raise a family and contribute to the future of his community in the latter half of the 20th century.

A banker by profession, Mr. Caterina was a member of the South Portland Planning Board in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it oversaw planning and construction of the Maine Mall.

The project, on the site of a former pig farm, set in motion the development of the western section of South Portland, near the Maine Turnpike, as the modern commercial hub of southern Maine.

Mr. Caterina was proud of his involvement in the mall project, including his suggestion that the main thoroughfare be named Maine Mall Road, so the turnpike authority would allow the destination to be posted on highway signs.

“As a banker, he was very interested in economic development,” said Jean-Marie Caterina of Scarborough, his eldest child. “He knew the mall would broaden the tax base in South Portland and bring a lot of jobs to the area, and he knew how important that was, given his background.”

Mr. Caterina was 85 when he died Saturday at Maine Veterans’ Homes in Scarborough.

He grew up in Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood when it was home to many of the city’s Italian, Irish, Jewish and black residents. He was the second of four brothers. His mother, Mary, died shortly after he was born. His father, Anthony, remarried, so he was raised, lovingly, by his stepmother, Doris.

To help the family make ends meet during the Depression, he and his older brother, Francis, sold newspapers, caddied at the Portland Country Club and sold lunches to longshoremen on the city’s waterfront.

He was an early member of the Portland Boys Club, which he credited with keeping him out of trouble, and which recognized him in 2009 as one of its oldest surviving members.

“He traveled all over with the club’s basketball team, including train rides to Bangor,” said his son, John Caterina Jr. of Cape Elizabeth.

Mr. Caterina graduated early from Portland High School in December 1943 and immediately enlisted in the Navy, following his older brother into the war.

“He played the Portland-Deering football game at Thanksgiving, graduated mid-year like a lot of guys did back then and he was off to basic training in Mississippi,” his son said.

He served on the light cruiser USS Pasadena, seeing action on several major campaigns, including Iwo Jima and the invasion of Japan. His ship was anchored next to the USS Missouri, where surrender documents were signed in September 1945. The official Japanese naval photographer took a photo of him at Yokosuka Naval Base.

“He was among the first sailors to go on liberty in Tokyo after the surrender,” his daughter said. “Contrary to what people expected, he found the Japanese people to be friendly and thankful that the war was over.”

After the war, he went to college on the GI Bill and put his business degree to work in banking, including long stints with Canal National Bank and Pepperell Trust Co.

In 1954 he married Mary Ann Bennett, and the next year they bought a house in South Portland, where she worked as an elementary school teacher and they raised three children, including Jane Caterina Greer of Cape Elizabeth. He leaves behind four grandchildren.

Mr. Caterina and his wife moved to Cape Elizabeth several years before her death in 1999. He was an avid golfer, holding memberships at the Purpoodock Club in Cape Elizabeth and the Biddeford-Saco Country Club in Saco.

But it was his extraordinary commitment to family, community and country that defined Mr. Caterina’s life. It’s why “Little Duke” — his nickname as a young man — followed his older brother “Duke” into battle.

“It was the right thing to do,” his eldest daughter said. “That was enough for him.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]