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102-year-old WWII vet from New York dies while traveling to D-Day ceremony in France

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A 102-year-old World War II Navy veteran from New York died while traveling to France to take part in a ceremony to honor the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that turned the tide of the war toward Allied victory.

Robert Persichitti was traveling to Normandy by ship with a veterans group, headed to the site of the historic June 6, 1944, war milestone.

On the ship, he suffered a medical episode and was airlifted to a hospital in Germany, where he died, Richard Stewart, the president of veteran organization Honor Flight Rochester, told NBC News on Thursday.

Stewart said he received the call informing him of Persichitti’s death on Friday — news no one expected as “he was active, sharp as a tack, right up [to the end].”

“His health was age appropriately very good up to 102. He had some heart problems, but he checked with his doctor, who said, ‘Absolutely go on the trip,’” Stewart said. “He passed away peacefully, he was around people.”

“The doctor found some Frank Sinatra music, which was his favorite,” Stewart added.

Persichitti, of Fairport, New York, was described as a “humble” man who “had a great life.”

His vibrant, centurylong journey began with his childhood in the Allegheny Mountains outside of Pittsburgh. He lived through the Great Depression, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, and when World War II broke out he enlisted in the Navy, spending a year in New York City attending radio school and learning Morse code.

He spent 15 months at sea assigned to the command ship USS Eldorado in the Pacific as a junior radio operator through the end of the war, serving in Okinawa, Iwo Jima and Guam, Stewart said.

He witnessed the historic moment Marines raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945 — which was captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal and became one of the most iconic images of the war, Stars and Stripes reported.

He returned to Mount Suribachi in 2019 as part of a veterans program with the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, telling a Stars and Stripes reporter at the time, “When I got on the island today, I just broke down.”

Persichitti was named to the New York state Senate’s Veterans Hall of Fame in 2020.

After the war, he settled in Rochester, New York, where he spent 40 years as a shop teacher with the Rochester City School District, teaching carpentry and other technical skills to students, and where he joined Honor Flight Rochester, which takes veterans to visit D.C. memorials.

In 2015, he published the autobiography “Building an American Life.”

He also regularly visited students in Pittsford, New York, near Rochester, to speak about World War II. In April, the Pittsford Central School District shared photos of students celebrating Persichitti’s 102nd birthday.

Persichitti was an active part of Honor Flight Rochester, and most recently attended events in April and May, shaking the hands of hundreds of veterans.

“When Bob said he was going to be someplace to do an event to help spread the word with Honor Flight, he was there, he’d be in his orange shirt. He was a great volunteer for us,” Stewart said. “I think we all had every intention that if he got back from his Normandy trip on Father’s Day, he would have been there in June, shaking hands.”

Stewart noted that Persichitti’s wife had preceded him in death and he had no children.

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