Wednesday afternoon was a trip around the city that Retired Sgt. Anthony Baldorossi will never forget.
Dozens of students waved American flags outside Samuel Smith Elementary School and, later on, Wilbur Watts Intermediate School as the 98-year-old Burlington City resident was honored for his service with the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.
The 98-year-old rode by in a squad car, waving shyly with a smile on his face, as police and firefighters escorted him and his family around town for a short, impromptu parade.
The procession passed Smith School and ended at City Hall, where members of the high school marching band played patriotic music as Baldorossi was taken to the veterans memorial just across the street.
The idea came about just a day before, sparked by a town Facebook group post from his daughter, Joanne McCann, asking if any strong men could help her get her father into the car so they could take a trip to the cemetery to visit the grave of his wife.
But once police officers heard about the request, it evolved into more than that, and within 24 hours, city schools and first responders volunteered to help make the day special.
“It was unbelievable,” said Baldorossi, who has recently been sick making it difficult for him to walk. “I thought it was just going to be a matter of getting into the car, and somebody saying a few words.
“I didn’t expect half of the town to come out.”
Family members said the escort through town made them feel emotional, overwhelmed, but most of all, grateful. Until Wednesday, McCann said her father hadn’t been formally honored for his service before.
“I started getting phone calls from the police department, and suddenly they’d planned this whole thing for my dad,” she said. “I wish my mom was here to see it.”
— Gianluca D’Elia (@gianluca_delia) March 4, 2020
Baldorossi served during World War II as a military mechanic refueling B52 bomber planes on Ascension Island, a small island in the Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa. He served in the Army Air Forces.
He said he headed there in 1942, and was finally able to return home to Burlington City when he was discharged in 1946.
“It was really, really nice and unforgettable. Unforgettable,” he reiterated.
With his 99th birthday approaching soon, Baldorossi said, “Like with everything else, it takes it course. You live with it. As long as you have your family around, it makes it easier.”
In addition to thanking the city for a ceremony he’ll never forget, Baldorossi left some wise life advice.
“You have to love one another, and I keep telling my children that. You get in an argument or anything, don’t dwell on it,” said Baldorossi, who was married to his wife for 70 years until she died a couple of years ago.
Baldorossi, a lifelong Burlington City resident, is well-known in town.
After retiring from his career at the Roebling Steel Mill in Florence, he worked for the city as a carpenter, his family said. He even worked on the bandstand at the Riverfront Promenade.
“It’s a wonderful day,” McCann said. “My family is so appreciative and grateful for what Burlington City’s police department and the community has done for my dad. They pulled this off in a day.”
Police Chief John Fine said the quickly organized escort speaks to the city’s ability to come together for a common cause.
“I can’t be more proud to be from Burlington City and to be chief of police here, knowing that if I just put something out on social media, many times I’ll get a response from the community,” he said.
Council President Ila Marie Lollar said she was proud of the town, and honored to be a part of the day and the community
“It was wonderful that this community, in the blink of an eye, can and will come together to honor somebody who lives in this community and participates in it,” Lollar said. “That’s what Burlington City does.”
© 2020 Burlington County Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.