World War II U.S. Army veteran Ottavio Cerullo couldn’t leave his residence to celebrate his 99th birthday Sunday amid the coronavirus pandemic, so South Boston brought the party to him.
Boston Police officers and firefighters drove by his assisted living home blaring sirens and flashing lights, while supporters waved American flags, held signs and honked their horns in a drive-by tribute to Cerullo who took in the event on his porch standing next to his sister, 97-year-old Yolanda Cerullo.
“This was a very nice surprise,” Ottavio Cerullo said. “I want to thank everyone for coming out here, showing their appreciation. I really appreciate it.”
Ottavio, sporting a gray cap with the American flag, waved at passersby and saluted others from his porch at Compass on the Bay, South Boston’s Memory Support Assisted Living Community on Columbia Road, while his sister stood holding a sign exclaiming “He’s my brother, isn’t he old!”
The procession began with a message from Mayor Martin Walsh read aloud on the home’s front lawn by Robert Santiago, Navy veteran and commissioner of Veterans’ Services for Boston.
“In celebration of your 99th birthday, and in honor of your years of service and tireless devotion to duty during World War II as a soldier of Company C, 101st Engineers Combat Battalion, and for the lifelong thanks and inspiration you have given to so many on behalf of the city of Boston, Happy Birthday, and best wishes to you, and your loved ones,” Santiago said.
A staff member relayed Ottavio’s thanks to Santiago who kept a safe distance from the porch with others who turned out to celebrate.
Shari Sweeney, Compass’ director of programming, said she initially called about birthday cards for Ottavio Cerullo, receiving over 300 before Santiago saw the initiative and arranged the neighborhood parade.
“We did not tell him until today,” Sweeney said of Ottavio. “His sister Yolanda is the only family he has. This is a big thing for him. He’s very soft spoken but he’s kept saying ‘I’m very appreciative of this, god bless all of you.”