‘Why should I wait to give something away?’

For a Belfast nonagenarian veteran, life continues as a service to others

Posted:  Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 5:45pm
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Carmine Pecorelli holds a picture of his young self. (Photo courtesy of Carmine Pecorelli)

At age 92, Carmine Pecorelli, of Belfast, continues to put others ahead of himself. This time, he is offering a kidney to a fellow graduate of the Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina. A firm believer of the military motto "Life is for Service," Pecorelli has recently been cleared by his general practitioner for this next deed before his ultimate organ donation at the time of his death.

After initial testing, Pecorelli's practitioner told him that health-wise, he has the body of a 55-year-old.

Not so of the Citadel graduate, class of 1960, he'd met at an alumni meeting. William B. Gillespie, Esq. of Topsham, having once represented Pecorelli in court litigation, told him, during the courtroom process, about his failing kidneys.

"You don't look so well," Pecorelli said to his attorney. "What's up?"

Pecorelli thought of his friend's need for a kidney as he drove home. Already committed to full organ donation after death, Pecorelli asked himself: "Why should I wait to give something away? So I called him and I said, Bill, ‘I'd like to offer you one of my kidneys.’ And he went silent."

The paperwork still has to be processed. Further testing is needed to confirm him as a match. The attorney's ability to withstand the new organ will be considered.

And a few friends need mollification at the idea of a nonagenarian going through surgery.

But Pecorelli's two sons and two daughters, along with the 11 grandchildren, are enthusiastic, according to Pecorreli.

"My children are proud of me," he said. "They didn't tell me 'Daddy don't do it.' One of my children is a nurse, and one of my sons-in-law is an endocrinologist. They're all happy."

The daughter who is a nurse, Theresa Belsky, said in a phone interview from her home in New Jersey that she was not surprised to hear of her father’s offer.

“He’s a very generous person,” she said. “He’d give his right arm. And it comes from the heart.”

However, as a nurse with a history of working the med/surg unit, the age factor has come up repeatedly.

“I kept saying to myself, wait a minute, how old is he again?” she said.

Belsky had not heard of octogenarians and nonagenarians donating kidneys; in fact, she had to do research to learn that yes, it is possible.

Either way, she is happy for him and shares in his excitement. During her conversation with him, she said she could hear his tone change as he weaved the kidney story to the forefront.

“He was talking, and then his tone of voice changed,” she said. “So I knew this was something good, positive, that he was excited about.”

For son Stephen, himself a recipient of two bronze stars while serving in Iraq, the initial response was one of surprise. Yet, in retrospect, he admitted he wasn’t surprised at all.

“My father has always been aware of the needs of the people around him and society, and he has a strong faith,” he said during a phone interview from his home in New Jersey.

 

A life of service

For the family, Pecorelli's offer as a living donor is indicative of his life of service.

At age 14, he stood in line at the local recruiting station alongside thousands of others who offered to serve after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

At 16, he became a member of the New Jersey State Guard.

At 17, he enlisted in the Navy.

Pecorelli, the son of a first-generation Italian-American, was raised by his grandparents. Neither of the grandparents could read English; therefore, they could not help him with his homework.

As he aged, his grades slipped. By the end of the eighth grade, Pecorelli had lost all confidence in himself to the point of quitting academics altogether. Yet, what he did have, was a strong family unit.

“The big thing about the Italian family is the family,” Pecorelli said. “Family comes first. You’re trained in respect. When an elderly person came in, you stood up. If you were sitting down having dinner, you’d make room. Manners were very important.”

For Pecorelli, his dream at age five of becoming a soldier would evolve into a military career spanning three wars. He also became a strong advocate for education, and through it all, he has carried an ingrained belief that life is for service.

With his eighth grade education upon entering the Navy, Pecorelli studied extra hard to pass every rank-elevating test. He knew, when he received the seaman’s first class book, that he’d need to read it over and over again, memorizing it the same way he retained his grandparents’ storytelling.

“I would have the seaman first book with me when we got on the truck to go to the gunnery range,” he said. “I’d have it and I’d be reading it. And if I was eating, I’d be reading it. If on leisure time, I would read it.”

And when he and four high school graduates sat for the test, he alone passed.

 

On duty, 24/7

Pecorelli made his way up the service ranks, which included a stint in a top-secret radar machinery school where top scientists and professors took extra time to teach him the material. Through it all, he continued to amaze himself with his accomplishments as well as his responsibilities to the military and those below him.

“One time I stood watch, and the man that was supposed to relieve me got intoxicated,” he said. “He couldn’t relieve me, so I stood his watch. When his watch was over, I stood my watch. Then when my watch was over, he was still intoxicated, so I stood his watch. I stood watch 24 hours.”

Why?

“Because of this book,” he said. “It says when you are in the Navy, you’re on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

At age 21, his service to WWII ended. The GI Bill was not yet in existence, but the idea of college was still too powerful to ignore. First, though, he had to go to high school.

He found enrollment at Scarborough School, a K-12 private boarding school in upstate New York, where he was taught to love Shakespeare. That helped pave the way for undergraduate studies at the Citadel, with recognition as the oldest Citadel Plebe, having entered at age 25. By graduation in 1954, he’d made school history again as the oldest  graduated, age 30. All this paved the way to graduate school at the University of Edinburgh.

After school, he worked as a cowboy on a ranch in Wyoming, wrote for Hearst’s Journal-American in New York, succeeded in the field of public relations for the State of New Jersey, and helped FEMA with the 911 disaster.

One constant remained: Helping wherever he could.

Pecorelli's intervention in 1965 on behalf of Sisters of Centro Hispano Catolico allowed three tractor trailer trucks full of donated Campbell's Soup to get from the Northeast to needy people in Florida.

At the start of the convoy, unbeknownst to him, the three trucks were filled beyond the national turnpike’s weight allowance. State police in North Carolina waylaid what became known as the “Friendship Route” mission, barring the trucks’ travel.

Pecorelli, in New York, received the mission’s plea for help. He, in turn, called the North Carolina governor’s chief of staff. An alchemy of charm, friendship, and a hint that the media was watching followed, and soon the trucks soon on their way.

And then he called South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

In 1990, he pulled together a last-minute reception complete with hotel rooms and credit union services for 25 hostages released by Sadam Hussein.

After picking up the phone and requesting a nutritious meal for all captives, including vegans, securing an initial credit union commitment of $100,000 to be dispersed to the families, and every detail in between, Pecorelli was called to state police headquarters. 

“Ok. So we went. And I had everything on the pad. And the director of public assistance, he said, ‘here’s your assignment.’”

“Yes John.”

‘’We have 25 people coming.’ – I wait till he got finished – ‘Now get to work.’”

“So I had my yellow pad. I said, ‘I’ve already gotten to work. Here’s where they’re going to stay, here’s where….’ and everything went silent.”

“And he said, ‘but you don’t understand.’”

“I said, ‘You don’t understand. I took this assignment on.’”

Pecorelli has taught students touring Arlington National Cemetery, as well as ROTC students and potential military enlistees. He helped man the phones during WCSH 6 television's recent telethon for Honor Flight.

He volunteered with the General Knox Museum to bring the Vietnam Moving Wall to Thomaston, helped Waldo County General Hospital generate a disaster plan, acted as selectman in Belmont, and is caretaker to two other veterans.

He also carries in his heart two particular stories of service by the Wreaths Across America campaign started by the Worcesters of Columbia Falls, and the saga of the Four Chaplains during the sinking of the U.S.A.T Dorchester.

“It really is true,” he said. “When you are in the service – We care for each other. We’ll die for each other.... And we give kidneys to each other.”

Education is a blessing, manners are key, and life is for service.


Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com