WWII veteran celebrates 102nd birthday, 75th wedding anniversary

WWII veteran celebrates 102nd birthday, 75th wedding anniversary

Nicola Mainelli, a World War II veteran, will turn 102 on Nov. 15. He and his wife Santa, at left, who’s 98, will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary on Dec. 2. (Breeze photo by Melanie Thibeault)

PROVIDENCE – Nicola Mainelli is celebrating two big milestones this year: his 102nd birthday on Friday, Nov. 15, and his 75th wedding anniversary on Monday, Dec. 2.

The World War II veteran, whose family said they believe is the oldest living WWII veteran in the state, and his wife Santa, 98, live on Badger Road in Providence, right on the North Providence town line. A spokesman for the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services couldn’t confirm whether he’s the oldest, saying the office doesn’t track that type of demographic information.

Santa told The Breeze that she doesn’t know where the couple’s longevity comes from, while their daughter Barbara Ambrosino said, “The secret to longevity and their happy marriage is a cocktail every day.” Her father drinks brandy, while her mother has a scotch, she said.

Mainelli, who was born in 1917, and his wife both grew up in Providence, went to Central High School, and met in 1939 at the jewelry factory where they worked in downtown Providence.

“He always had his eye on her,” Ambrosino said.

After enlisting in the military, he left the U.S. in January 1942, traveling first by boat to Palestine. He traveled throughout Africa and eventually was stationed in Italy until the war ended in 1945.

Mainelli was a sergeant in the Army Air Corps, which is now the U.S. Air Force, and served as an aircraft mechanic, Ambrosino said. He was part of the 98th Bombardment Group and 345th Bomb Squadron.

Mainelli, who has some difficulty with hearing and conversing, didn’t say much about his time in the military but said the war is something that he carries with him, deep inside him.

He didn’t receive his war medals until he was 98, during a ceremony hosted by Sen. Jack Reed. Mainelli received the Presidential Unit Citation, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one Bronze and two Silver Stars.

After winning a raffle in 1944, Mainelli’s prize was a 30-day trip home. When he arrived back in Rhode Island, he took one look at Santa and proposed, Ambrosino said. The couple married at St. Ann’s Church in Providence on Dec. 2, 1944, and honeymooned in New York before he had to return overseas.

When he came home after the war ended, “they started their life together finally,” Ambrosino said.

In addition to Ambrosino, the couple has one other daughter, Donna Brigida, one granddaughter, Ali Brigida, and one great-granddaughter, Sarina Resto. Brigida and her husband Michael and Ambrosino and her husband Sal all live in Johnston. Both couples have been married for more than 50 years.

Mainelli, who was one of nine siblings, has one living brother who is 93 years old.

After the war, Mainelli worked as a mechanic at Quonset Point before becoming a mail handler for the United States Post Office for 30 years, retiring at the age of 58.

The couple, who were snowbirds and traveled to Florida in the winter for 30 years, used to golf, bowl, and dance. Their daughter said they were always out dancing with their friends, but now all of their friends are gone.

Mainelli also used to write and sing songs to his wife.

Sitting on the couch in the couple’s living room last Friday, he looked at Santa and began singing one of his originals: “Say that our love will never stray, dear, just like a dream you came to me. Ours is a love just meant to be. I love you more and more every day, dear.”

Sgt. Nicola Mainelli in Palestine in 1942.