BELFAST ― Belfast has lost the last of its Greatest Generation servicemembers. Carmine Anthony Pecorelli, veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, died March 19 at the age of 96.

In a eulogy read by his grandson at his March 24 funeral, a longtime friend described him as “a veteran, a patriot, a gentleman, a man of compassion, a father, a friend to all.” But there was a time in his life when Carmine described himself as “a loser.”

During his funeral at Faith Temple Church, he told his own story movingly in a video. Born to Italian immigrants in Jersey City, New Jersey, June 27, 1925, he recalled the Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

“The next day the lines went around the block,” he said. “Men and women were going to enlist. My generation. I’m proud of my generation.”

Just 16, Carmine, too, got in line, but was turned away because he was too young. At age 17, he tried to enlist in the Army and the Marine Corps, but was told by both he could join only by being drafted. Finally, he was able to join the Navy when his father signed a contract allowing him to serve until he was 21.

“I had no confidence in myself,” he said in the video, “but being in the Navy, you get orders.”

Carmine A. Pecorelli poses next to the grave of a classmate from The Citadel. He placed the wreath at the grave and the Shako hat on the headstone during the Wreaths Across America wreath-laying cemetery at Arlington National Cemetery Dec. 13, 2014. Courtesy of Jeff Parquette

An early firefighting practice drill aboard the mine sweeper USS Dynamic AM-91 did little to bolster his self-confidence. His chief told Carmine to handle the nozzle. “I didn’t know anything about wind and water and what happens,” he said, “and the chief was behind me and said, ‘Pecorelli, what the hell are you doing? Get that nozzle up!’ And I put it up and the water was going into the wind. Well, it only went so far, then it stopped, and it turned and guess who it landed on?”

Transferring to the Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, Carmine began studying a new technology for war: He became a radarman.

“Pilots would fly out over the ocean,” he said in the video. “Sometimes they’d get lost.” One night that happened, and the duty officer told the pilot that the radarman would get him home. He asked what Carmine wanted the pilot to do.

“Have him fly a square pattern, 10 miles by 10 miles square,” Carmine said. “And tell him the reason why we’re doing that: I have to pick him up on radar ― there’s a lot of other planes around.

“He gave him the order to fly that pattern. Another petty office was plotting. And sure enough, we got the square.

“And I said to the officer, call him and tell him we have him. We know where he is. Give him that confidence, because he’s up there all by himself, and it’s dark at night and it’s darker over the ocean. Tell him we have him and that I’m going to bring him home.”

As the pilot flew the pattern, Carmine started giving him the vectors and the speed. “And we had World War II spotlights,” he said. “We had one and an Army base had the other. … We called the other base and said turn your light on. Where the beams of light crossed, that’s where the airport was.” Carmine encouraged the pilot, saying, “That’s fine flying. See the beam now? Do you see that X?”

“’Yes.’”

“Well, you land between that X and you’re home. And all that pilot said was, ‘Thanks, Mickey.’” Mickey was the radar unit’s code name.

“And so I started becoming proud of myself,” he said in the video. “The military gave me confidence. Before that I was a loser” with just a grammar school diploma from the eighth grade in Jersey City.

Carmine was honorably discharged from the Navy on his 21st birthday, June 27, 1946. Asked by his lieutenant about his future plans, Carmine said he guessed he’d look for a job. The lieutenant urged him to go to college on the GI Bill instead.

To get a high school diploma first, Carmine enrolled in a boarding school, where he would study and not be tempted to socialize at VFW and American Legion halls.  As a boy he had dreamed of attending West Point, but he was now too old.

“But The Citadel accepted me,” he said in the video. “And I never told them I was a veteran. I wanted to put in that plebe year.” In his senior year, Carmine received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, a national award for community service.

Carmine also served in the Army Active Reserves and was assigned to the 78th Infantry Division (Lightning Division) and 320th Special Forces Operation Detachment. During the Korean War he trained soldiers at Fort Bragg. He retained the rank of sergeant major.

When not in uniform for a patriotic event, Carmine proudly wore a baseball cap that read, “World War II, Korea and Vietnam Veteran.”

During his funeral, Faith Temple Pastor Arthur Fairbrother told a story, saying he was not sure if it was true, “…that when 9/11 happened, Carmine was in his 70s … and he actually went to the recruiting place and lied to them. He told them he was 52 so he could sign back up and reenlist.

“The gentleman that was there just kind of chuckled, and said ‘I’m sorry, sir, but I think you’re 52-plus.’ That was Carmine.”

Following his military service, Carmine moved on to a career in journalism. He was an investigative reporter with The New York Journal-American, and served as an adviser to William Randolph Hearst during the time when he interviewed Nikita Khrushchev.

Carmine A. Pecorelli, left, and Jeff Parquette, his close friend and a Class 1 disabled veteran from Augusta, right, pictured with then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in December 2014. Courtesy of Jeff Parquette

He also worked for the state of New Jersey in the Department of Travel and Tourism and the Department of Emergency Management. Carmine lived and raised his family of four children in Haddonfield, New Jersey, and he was Pop-Pop to eight grandchildren. Devoted to each of them, he told Maine friends he was thrilled to spend the month of December 2021 in New Jersey with his family.

Carmine began visiting Maine when he bought a summer home in Belmont in 1984, then made it his permanent home in 2004. A man who devoted his life to serving others, he was active in several churches as well as veterans’ groups in New Jersey and continued that volunteer work and church affiliations in his adopted state to the north.

As a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, AmVets, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, he was active with local posts, and cared for disabled veterans ― and for others who needed a helping hand. He also was active with Maine Troop Greeters, Honor Flight Maine, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial and Wreaths Across America.

Joy Asuncion, a longtime friend and Navy veteran, said one of Carmine’s proudest moments was when he traveled to Arlington National Cemetery with the Wreaths Across America convoy and laid a wreath on the grave of Audie Murphy, the most decorated veteran of World War II. He also laid wreaths on the graves of two friends from his years at The Citadel.

Both Asuncion and Jim Roberts of Belfast VFW Post 3108 ended their tributes to Carmine with words from a Navy poem, “End of Watch.”

Roberts said, “Rest easy my friend. We have the watch.”

Carmine Anthony Pecorelli, who as a teen thought himself a loser, concluded his video with a special message: “I ask young people, do you have a dream? Is there a desire? And they say yeah. And I say, then go for it! Fulfill your dream, no matter how wild it is. You may not be successful, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure.”

He added: “I’ve had a great life. But I don’t know when my ship is going to be called. I’m happy. And it’s been a great life for me.”

Carmine’s obituary is online at ripostafh.com.