World War II Veteran Dies en Route to D-Day Event

World War II Veteran Dies en Route to D-Day Event
World War II Navy veteran Robert "Al" Persichitti, of Fairport, NY. (Courtesy of The National WWII Museum via AP)

A World War II veteran died en route to France for a D-Day commemoration, at age 102.

Robert “Al” Persichitti from Fairport, New York, was onboard a ship to Europe, fell ill during a stop in Germany, and was transferred to a hospital where his life ended, said Rev. William Leone, his longtime priest and friend. Mr. Persichitti was traveling to attend the World War II commemoration event in Normandy, at the shore where the Allied invasion of France happened on June 6, 1944.

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans called Persichitti a “longtime friend.”

In an interview with WROC in Rochester before he left for Europe, Mr. Persichitti said he had been in his cardiologist’s office when he learned about the trip.

“And he says, ‘Go!’” he recalled his doctor telling him.

“I’m really excited to be going,” he said.

The veteran died peacefully with the doctor next to him, playing on her phone music he liked.

Mr. Persichitti was a radioman on the USS Eldorado in February 1945 during the invasion of Japan’s Iwo Jima island and the raising of the American flag on it, an event immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

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Footage of the scene of U.S. Marines raising a U.S. flag at Iwo Jima during World War II is played at the Library of Congress on May 24, 2004. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mr. Persichitti was responsible for communications during the Iwo Jima and Okinawa missions.

U.S. Marines invaded the tiny Iwo Jima island on February 19, 1945, after months of naval and air bombardment. Approximately 70,000 U.S. Marines and 18,000 Japanese soldiers took part in the battle. In 36 days of fighting on the island, nearly 7,000 Marines were killed and 20,000 wounded. Only 216 Japanese soldiers were captured, very few escaped, and the rest were killed in battle.

Iwo Jima is a volcanic island 660 miles south of Tokyo. Its capture prepared the way for the largest Pacific battle, the invasion of Okinawa.

Mr. Persichitti lived as a carpentry teacher in a Rochester school, according to local reports.

“It was a privilege to know him, and I will miss him. He had a real zest for living,” Rev. Leone said.

Persichitti led the Pledge of Allegiance at this year’s Memorial Day remembrance in East Rochester.

“He wanted,” the pastor said, “to keep the memory of the sacrifices that had been made alive.”

“He’s been to most of the World War II remembrances down in Washington and Louisiana, and he wanted to get to the D-Day remembrance ceremony, too,” the pastor of the Church of Saint Jerome in East Rochester said, where Mr. Persichitti attended Mass every week. “But the Lord took him in Germany. He was on his way to France, but he didn’t make it.”

In 2019, at the age of 96, Mr. Persichitti returned to Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, where the now iconic flag-raising happened. He said he “broke down” when he saw the place again.

He also recalled the severe loss of life and injuries suffered by the Americans in one of the Marine Corps’ bloodiest battles.

“When they made the landing, they started losing all these guys,” he said. “It wasn’t a very good sight.”

In 2020, the veteran entered the New York State Senate’s Veterans Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed by former Sen. Rich Funke (R-N.Y.).

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The sun rises over Omaha Beach near Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy, France, on June 6, 2024. (Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo)

D-Day Commemoration

In Normandy, France, at the same shore where 80 years ago the Allied Forces attacked the Nazi army of Germany, commemorations were performed by world leaders, joined by veterans of the battle, who are now between the ages of 98 and 104.

Allied troops landed on five code-named beaches—Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

The war in Ukraine shadowed the ceremonies, a grim modern-day example of lives and cities that are again suffering through war in Europe.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, to 11 U.S. veterans, saying that they fought to make France a free nation.

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World War II veterans listen during a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, on June 6, 2024. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Among the Americans was Edward Berthold, a pilot who carried out his three missions over France in May 1944, before taking part in an operation in Saint-Lo, in Normandy, on D-Day. He flew 35 combat missions in all during World War II.

“You came here because the free world needed each and every one of you, and you answered the call,” Mr. Macron said. “You came here to make France a free nation. You’re back here today at home, if I may say.”

Conscious of the inevitability of age and time for World War II veterans, throngs of aficionados in uniforms and riding vehicles of the time, and tourists soaking up the spectacle, flooded Normandy for the 80th anniversary. At the international ceremony later, the veterans received a standing ovation as they were paraded before the stands across the beachfront promenade.

With the dead and wounded on both sides in Ukraine estimated in the hundreds of thousands, commemorations for the more than 4,400 Allied dead on D-Day and many tens of thousands more, including French civilians, killed in the ensuing Battle of Normandy are tinged with concerns that World War II lessons are being lost.

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Christophe Receveur and his daughter Julie, of France, unfold an American flag he bought six month ago in Gettysburg, Penn., to mark D-Day, on Utah Beach, Normandy, France, on June 6, 2024. (John Leicester/AP Photo)
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Re-enactors pose for a photo during a ceremony at Utah Beach near Saint-Martin-de-Vareville in Normandy, France, on June 6, 2024. (Jeremias Gonzalez/AP Photo)

“There are things worth fighting for,” said Walter Stitt, who fought in tanks and turns 100 in July, as he visited Omaha Beach this week. “Although I wish there was another way to do it than to try to kill each other.”

“We’ll learn one of these days, but I won’t be around for that,” he said.

NTD Photo
A World War II veteran arrives for ceremonies to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, on June 6, 2024. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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