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World War II vet celebrates 97th birthday

By Staff | Mar 29, 2018

Iggy Fragione does yardwork, goes out dancing on Friday night with his wife, does a lot of reading, makes pizza from scratch, still drives regularly and is always the life of any party he’s invited to.

That would be something special if he was 70, but on Monday, he and his friends gathered at The Cafe at the Coralwood Mall to celebrate his 97th birthday.

It was a small gathering of just a few friends who have known Iggy for several years and who also served their country.

It ended up being a party, with total strangers wishing him happy birthday and thanking him and his friends for their service while Iggy enjoyed his birthday cheesecake and everyone in the place sang Happy Birthday.

Don Jaber, who served in the Air Force as a commander, met Iggy and his wife about 12 years ago and decided to have this celebration for him at the last minute.

Mary Burtt and Paul Worrall, who served in the Army during both Korea and Vietnam, also came for the party.

Fragione was born and raised in New Britain, Conn., and served from 1942-45 in the U.S. Army, primarily in the Persian Gulf, where he helped load and unload supplies to the troops in Russia. It was a very important job, but fortunately, aside from the occasional skirmish, he never saw any combat.

“When I returned home, I joined the 52/20 Club (which was what unemployed combat veterans received upon returning home from war). I made $20 a week for 52 weeks and eventually went to trade school to become an iron worker,” Fragione said.

For the next four decades, Fragione helped build schools, including the University of Connecticut, hospitals and the skyline that exists today in Hartford, Conn., which was where he lived most of his adult life. He worked his way up to superintendent.

About the time he started trade school, he went on a blind date one night and met Josephine. They went bowling on their first date and have ended up being married for 71 years and counting.

They have two children; one is a pilot, the other a schoolteacher who sells paintings as a side job.

“She felt sorry for you,” Don Jaber joked.

“I had to wait. I was only 16 when we met. I wanted to get married in a Catholic Church, so he took me to the church I went to (in Armenia, N.Y.) and met with Father Lovell and he said he would marry us on the spot,” Josephine said. “He babies me too much. I tell him to let me do something around the house, but he’s happy doing it and he’s an excellent cook.”

She said that Iggy worked very hard, but once the work week ended, he and she got dressed to the nines, drove 50 miles down to Old Lyme on the shore and danced the night away at the Elks, returning home in the wee hours of the morning.

“Every week, I said I wanted four hours to myself an that’s what we did. We did that all our lives and I’ll never give it up,” Iggy said.

Iggy worked until he retired in 1984. He wanted to move to Cape Coral upon retiring, but his wife didn’t want to leave right away, so they came down six years later.

That didn’t mean he spent the rest of his watching television. He and Josephine travelled a lot, especially to the Carribbean, and he has continued to go dancing on Friday night and lives his life as if he’s 30 years younger, which he considers the secret to a long life.

“I have to work, no matter what it is. If I don’t stay active, I’ll never make it. I do the housework and the landscaping (though he doesn’t cut the lawn anymore), but I keep going,” Fragione said, who has some minor health issues such as hearing loss and stomach issues.

Even today, Iggy goes out of his way to help people, according to Pat Jaber.

“He keeps doing things for other people to keep active,” Jaber said. “He goes dancing at the Elks every Friday night. He drives his own car. When you see him, you can’t believe he’s 97.”