WWII Hero Turns 100

 WWII Hero Turns 100

By Katie McFadden

On Thursday, May 11, Vito Petruzzelli officially turns 100 years old! And at 100, this WWII hero says the secret to living so long is having no worries.

“He was born in 1923 and witnessed the Depression, he went through World War II and all of the different tragedies we’ve experienced since then. He has 100 years’ worth of life experience,” Vito’s daughter, Laurice Keating, a local real-estate agent said.

Petruzzelli was born in Manhattan and lived on West 3rd and Sullivan with his mom, who was born in America, his father, from Italy, and his two brothers.

At about 18 years old, as WWII was brewing, Petruzzelli decided not to wait to get drafted. He enlisted in the U.S. Army. “His father used to make him come home early because they lived in a bad neighborhood and his father would worry, so he got pissed and decided to join the Army,” Keating said. But Petruzelli says it wasn’t his father’s fault.

In 1941, he enlisted out of love for his country. Petruzelli became a part of the infantry and served for two years and seven months. And he was awarded several medals, including the Bronze Star for heroism, and a Purple Heart. “There were three of us crammed in a foxhole together at the Battle of the Bulge,” Pertruzelli said. It would be where he got wounded, suffering from gang green and frostbite in both of his legs. Fortunately, he came home with both of his legs.

His time serving in the U.S. Army was something Petruzelli didn’t speak of, and it was a fact his family only recently learned about when Laurice’s daughter was doing some research for a college project.

Petruzelli met his wife, Katherine, shortly after the war and they got married in 1947. He and his wife had two daughters—Laurice and Victoria. In 2006, they moved to Rockaway from Brooklyn. Vito’s wife passed away in 2010. He also has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

On Sunday, the family joined Vito for a 100th birthday bash at the Keating-owned restaurant, Pico. It was a joyous occasion for all. “Most people lose their parents at a young age. We’re totally blessed to have him here,” Laurice Keating said.

How does it feel to be 100? “It feels good,” Petruzelli said. Aside from having knee replacement surgery when he was 79, Vito is in good health and feeling strong. “I don’t feel weak. I feel like I should get a job,” he said. During his life, Vito had spent much of his career as a textile printer. And in 1983, he became a school safety officer for the NYC Board of Education, a position his wife ultimately made him retire from in the 1990s when he was about 73 years old.

 What’s his secret to making it to 100? “Don’t worry about anything,” Petruzelli said. “My father doesn’t have debt. He never used a credit card, never used an ATM machine. If he didn’t have cash in his pocket, he wouldn’t buy something. I think that’s why he’s alive. He has no worries,” Keating said. He also indulges in some simple joys. “He drinks wine and smokes his pipe every day,” Keating said.

But it’s what he did for his country that stands out most, despite Vito being humble about his service. “He did so much for his country, and we never knew. He never spoke about it. He didn’t expect any notoriety. It was just something he did because he loves his country,” Keating said. “He’s a true hero.”

Big cheers to a local hero. Happy 100th, Vito!

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