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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

World War II veteran dies at 102 while traveling to D-Day event in France

Gen. Darryl Williams, the command general of the U.S. Army Europe and Africa, salutes a group of World War II veterans before delivering a speech at Deauville Airport in the Normandy region of France, June 3, 2024. U.S. Navy veteran Robert Persichitti, 102, died last Friday while traveling to France to participate in an event commemorating D-Day, a veterans organization said. (Laetitia Vancon/The New York Times)

By Alexandra E. Petri

A World War II Navy veteran who witnessed the raising of the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima died while traveling to France to participate in an event commemorating D-Day, a veterans organization said.

Robert Persichitti, 102, died Friday, said Richard Stewart, president of the Honor Flight Rochester, a veteran’s organization that Persichitti belonged to. Persichitti, of Fairport, New York, was among the dwindling number of his generation still attending D-Day celebrations.

According to WHEC News 10, an NBC affiliate in Rochester, New York, Persichitti flew overseas with a group connected to the National World War II Museum and a companion, whom the organization identified as Al DeCarlo. He was on his way to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, known as D-Day, which turned the tide of World War II in Europe.

But Persichitti suffered a medical emergency while aboard a ship sailing toward Normandy, where the celebration was being held, and was airlifted to a hospital in Germany, WHEC 10 reported.

Persichitti had a history of heart problems. The day before he left for Europe, in an interview with WROC-TV, a CBS affiliate in Rochester, Persichitti said that his cardiologist encouraged him to go.

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

Persichitti’s death was not expected, Stewart said. “He died peacefully, and he did not die alone,” Stewart said. According to local news reports, the doctor played Frank Sinatra, Persichitti’s favorite singer, on her phone for him.

According to Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military news organization, Persichitti served in Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Guam as a radioman second class on the command ship USS Eldorado. He was named to the New York state Senate’s Veterans Hall of Fame in 2020.

“I served in the Pacific for 15 months aboard a ship,” Persichitti said in a 2022 interview with WDSU, an NBC affiliate in New Orleans. He said he helped handle “all the communications for the two operations: Iwo Jima and Okinawa.”

Persichitti was on the deck of the Eldorado when he witnessed the raising of a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, a moment depicted in one of the most famous photos in American history. He recorded the moment in a diary.

Persichitti later returned to Mount Suribachi in 2019. “When I got to the island today, I just broke down,” he told Stars & Stripes in a 2019 interview.

Stewart described Persichitti active and sharp, even at 102.

“He was a fit and upright and got around, and had the complete faculties of someone who would be decades younger,” Stewart said. “He was really something.”

Persichitti became a public school teacher in Rochester. Long after his retirement, he still visited classrooms to share stories of the war.

“It shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said in an interview last month with WXXI News, a National Public Radio station in Rochester.

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