In this BDN file photo from July 2021, World War II veteran Carmine Pecorelli smiles and signs "I love you" to those attending a ceremony at the University of Maine. With Pecorelli is his friend and Honor Flight Maine Board Member Joy Asuncion. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — Carmine Pecorelli, a Belfast World War II veteran who was known for his bright smile and warm demeanor with everyone he met, died Friday at the age of 96.

His passing marks the end of an era at the Randall-Collins Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3108 in Belfast, where Pecorelli was the last surviving member who belonged to the “Greatest Generation.”

“He was the last one — that’s a big loss for us,” Jim Roberts, the post’s operations manager, said Friday. “Carmine himself is a big loss. He was so important to everybody. He was everybody’s best friend.”

Pecorelli, a dynamic presence at local parades, veteran’s events and school classrooms, was a real-life link to a storied American past that more and more people know about only from history books and movies.

He grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, and was always proud of his Italian-American roots. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Pecorelli, who was just 14, stood in line at the local recruiting station, one of thousands of Americans who were ready to fight for their country.

But he stayed in school until he was 16, when he dropped out to become a member of the New Jersey State Guard. The following year, he enlisted in the Navy, where he served as a petty officer on a minesweeper in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Although the war wasn’t easy, Pecorelli said last year that he and the other Americans were confident that the tides of history were on their side.

We knew we would win,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

When he got out of the Navy, the first thing he did was to go back to high school at age 21, Roberts said. Then he went to college at The Citadel in South Carolina before returning to the military. Pecorelli served in the Air Force during the Korean War and was in the Army Reserve during the Vietnam War, when he helped to train thousands of soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

As a civilian, Pecorelli had a public relations and marketing career in New Jersey. After he moved to Maine in 2004, he quickly became an important part of the community.

“He was a bright star in a small town,“ Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders said Friday. “He personified all that was good about our soldiers and how we should respect them.”

In 2017, Pecorelli was named alumnus of the year by The Citadel Alumni Association, which cited his efforts to bring the Traveling Vietnam Wall to a Maine museum, to raise funds for Honor Flight Maine, and his service as marshall for the Wreaths Across America annual caravan.

“During one of his many trips there to honor America’s veterans, he was selected to place the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” the award citation from The Citadel read. “After serving in three wars, Carmine continues a life of service to the country and the veterans that have given so much.”

There was just something about Pecorelli that made him special, according to Roberts.

“Whenever we were out in the community, doing something, everybody would be around Carmine,” he said.

A memorable moment happened when he and Pecorelli were both marching in the 2018 Maine Lobster Festival parade in Rockland.

“It was a huge parade, a mile and a half long. Carmine decided to stop and talk to somebody. The entire parade stopped. Nobody batted an eye,” Roberts said.

And even though his health had been failing recently, Pecorelli, who is survived by four children, still retained his spark.

“He would always light up a room, no matter what,” Roberts said. “Even at the very end, he still had his great big smile, and was still flirting with the nurses.”

Carmine Pecorelli’s funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, March 24 at Faith Temple Church on Lincolnville Avenue in Belfast. A viewing will be held from 3-5 p.m. Wednesday, March 23 at the Riposta Funeral Home in Belfast.