World War II veteran Bartholomeo Ficeto, 100, was honored on Monday and then surprised.
With a little help, he cut the ribbon on a parking lot reserved for veterans, with his name on the sign at the Stop and shop to Edison.
Almost 12 years ago, the former B-25 gunner started working at Stop & Shop in Bloomfield. He transferred to the Edison store about four years ago and continued to work there until the coronavirus pandemic struck.
With his work ethic and affable nature, he became affectionately known as “Benny the Bagger”.
Stop & Shop Customer Service Manager Anita Kamari said she had worked with Benny for two years and every time she told him to take a break he would respond “No, I don’t want to lose. my time. I prefer to continue working.
She added that customers would enter her line on purpose so they could hear her stories at the checkout.
After the sign was signed, Benny was led inside the store where, unbeknownst to him, employees were waiting to surprise him with a birthday cake and celebration.
Some were holding signs with a photo of her smiling face as they raised their arms, cheering the return of their friend, a member of America’s greatest generation.
The party had only just begun. A vocal group called America’s lovers sang “Happy Birthday” to him in a three part harmony followed by a program of songs from the WWII era.
Benny was seated front and center and had pretty much the full attention of the three red-clad singers, appearing to have been able to step off stage and walk through time to one of Bob Hope’s first Christmas USO shows. The only real signs they weren’t were the wireless microphones and transparent face shields.
At the end of the music, Benny said: “I never expected something like this, ever … It’s a wonderful place” referring to his old workplace and repeating “A wonderful place” . He confessed to a former colleague: “I miss it … But I’m getting old now.”
She cut it. “You are not old. You look the same. Another added: “No, you’re still the same. They (the customers) keep asking, “Where’s Benny?” “Every week!” This remark made the centenarian laugh.
And as one person returned to his or her professional duties, she expressed the feelings of the staff as well as their clients: “We love you and we have missed you.”
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Michael Mancuso can be reached at [email protected]