105-Year-Old Who Survived Spanish Flu, WWII Dies After Contracting Covid
Dorene Giacopini holds up a photo of her mother Primetta Giacopini at her home in Richmond, Calif., on Monday. Primetta Giacopini was two years old when she lost her mother to the Spanish flu in 1918. Primetta Giacopini contracted COVID-19 earlier this month and died on Sept. 16. (Josh Edelson/AP)
By Theodore Bunker | Thursday, 30 September 2021 02:31 PM
A centenarian woman who lived through the Spanish Flu, fled Europe ahead of World War II, and later became an advocate for her disabled daughter, died earlier this month after being hospitalized with COVID-19.
Primetta Giacopini died on September 16 at the age of 105 in Connecticut, where she was born during the Spanish Flu epidemic.
Her mother died from the infection when Primetta was just two years old. Her father later sent her and her younger sister to live in Italy, where their family had originated, with Primetta being given to a foster family that settled in the country in 1929.
Her daughter, Dorene, said that “the way mom talked about it, he didn’t want to raise those kids alone, and men didn’t do that at that time. It’s ridiculous to me.”
Primetta, who worked as a seamstress, eventually met and fell in love with an Italian pilot, Vittorio Andriani, but she told the military aviation club Golden Gate Wing in 2008 that she “didn’t see too much of him because he was always fighting someplace.”
He would eventually go missing in action and Primetta later found that he had died in a crash near Malta.
After Italy entered World War II in 1940, Primetta was warned by local police to leave due to fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s desire for Americans to leave the country, and was later told by state police that she could be placed in a concentration camp if she stayed. She left with a group of strangers on a train to Portugal, where she traveled on a steamer to the United States.
“In Spain, one can still see, after 2-3 years, the traces of the atrocities of the past,” Primetta wrote to a friend in a letter at the time. “At Port Bou, the Spanish border, not one house is left standing; everting got destroyed because the town is an important train transit point that brought supplies to the ‘Reds,’ the enemy . . . I’ve seen so much destruction that I’ve had enough. The day after tomorrow, I get on the ship, and I’m sure all will go well.”
She would later get a job at a Bristol, Conn., General Motors plant where she helped in the war effort, and met her future husband, Umbert “Bert” Giacopini. The two would stay married until his death in 2002. They had a daughter, Dorene, who was born in 1960 with spina bifida, a condition that required her to use crutches for decades, and eventually prompted the family to move to California.
“My folks were born a long time ago,” Dorene said. “Their attitude about disability, and my mother’s attitude about disability, was it was lucky I was smart and I should get a good job I really liked because I probably wouldn’t be getting married or have children. They did not take parenting classes.”
Primetta was hospitalized earlier this month, although she had been vaccinated, and was placed in an emergency room and given an oxygen mask. X-rays determined that she had pneumonia and would need a ventilator, though Dorene noted that “they said nobody over 80 makes it off a ventilator,” which prompted her decision to remove Primetta’s oxygen. She died two days alter.
“She had such a strong heart that she remained alive for more than 24 hours after they removed the oxygen,” Dorene said. “I’m full of maybes, what I should have done with the ventilator . . . (but) it broke through three vaccinated people.
“I’m reminding myself that she was 105. We always talk about … my grandmother and mother, the only thing that could kill them was a worldwide pandemic.”