Woman who survived Spanish flu, world war dies at 105 after contracting Covid


She lived a life of adventure that spanned two continents. She fell in love with a WWII fighter pilot, narrowly escaped Europe from fascists Benito Mussolini, crushed steel for the American war effort, and defended her disabled daughter in a much less enlightened time. She was, her daughter said, someone who was not used to giving up.

And then this month, at 105, Primetta Giacopini’s life ended as it started – in a pandemic.

“I think my mother would have been there a little longer if she hadn’t contracted Covid,” said her 61-year-old daughter, Dorene Giacopini. “She was a fighter. She had a difficult life and her attitude has always been… basically all Americans who weren’t around during WWII were spoiled kids.

Dorene Giacopini with her mother, Primetta Giacopini, from her home in Richmond, California on September 27, 2021.Josh Edelson / AP

Primetta Giacopini’s mother, Pasquina Fei, died in Connecticut from the Spanish flu in 1918 at the age of 25. This pandemic has killed an estimated 675,000 Americans – a death toll eclipsed this month by the 2020-21 coronavirus pandemic.

Primetta was 2 years old when her mother died. Her father, a worker, did not want to raise Primetta or her younger sister, Alice. He sent Alice back to Italy, their ancestral homeland, and handed Primetta over to an Italian foster family who then moved to Italy in 1929.

“The way mom referred to it, he didn’t want to raise these kids alone, and the men weren’t doing that at the time,” Dorene recalls. “It’s ridiculous to me.”

Primetta supported herself by working as a seamstress. Raven hair with dark eyes and sharp features, she ends up falling in love with an Italian fighter pilot named Vittorio Andriani.

“I didn’t see him too much because he was always fighting somewhere,” Primetta said at the Golden Gate Wing, a military aviation club in Oakland, Calif., In 2008.

Italy entered World War II in June 1940. Local police warned Primetta to leave because Mussolini wanted American citizens to leave the country. Primetta refused. Several weeks later, the state police told her to come out, warning her that she might end up in a concentration camp.

In June 1941, Andriani was reported missing; Primetta later learned that it had crashed and died near Malta. During her disappearance, she joined a group of foreigners leaving Italy on a train to Portugal.

“In Spain you can still see, after 2-3 years, traces of the atrocities of the past,” Primetta wrote in a letter to a friend in the midst of her flight. “In Port Bou, the Spanish border, not a house is left standing; Everting was destroyed because the city is an important rail transit point that supplied the “Reds”, the enemy. . . I have seen so much destruction that I have had enough. The day after tomorrow I get on the ship, and I’m sure everything will be fine.

In Lisbon, she embarked on a steamer bound for the United States. She returned to Torrington, bought a Chevrolet sedan for $ 500, and landed a job at a General Motors factory in Bristol grinding steel to cover ball bearings for the war effort. She met her husband, Umbert “Bert” Giacopini, at work. They remained married until her death in 2002.

Primetta gave birth to Dorene in 1960 and received devastating news: the child was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord does not fully develop. For the first 50 years of her life, Dorene needed crutches to walk. Fearing that Dorene would slip during the Connecticut winters, the family moved to San Jose in 1975.

“My parents were born a long time ago,” she says. “Their attitude towards disability, and my mother’s attitude towards disability, was that I was lucky to be smart and I should have a good job that I loved. really because I probably wouldn’t get married or have children. They did not take parenting classes.

But Primatta was “pushy,” Dorene said, and never stopped fighting for her.

She once convinced school officials to move the accelerated classes from the third floor of Dorene’s school to the first floor so that Dorene could participate. During the springs in Connecticut, she demanded that city sweepers clean their street of salt and sand so Dorene wouldn’t slip.

This year, during a visit on September 9, Dorene noticed her mother was coughing. She knew her mother’s caretaker felt sick after her husband returned from a wedding in Idaho. All three had been vaccinated. But on leaving, Dorene guessed that her mother had contracted Covid-19.

“I made sure we said ‘I love you’.” She did the ‘See you later, alligator.’ I think we both said ‘After a while, crocodile,’ ”Dorene said. “It was the last time I saw her.”

Two days later, Primetta was in the emergency room. Her oxygen levels declined steadily over the next six days until the nurses put her on an oxygen mask.

She got confused and fought them so hard she had to be sedated, Dorene said. Chest x-rays told the story: pneumonia. Faced with the decision to put Primetta on a ventilator – “They said no one over 80 comes out of a ventilator,” Dorene said – she decided to take oxygen out of her mother.

Primetta died two days later, on September 16. She was 105 years old.

“She had such a strong heart that she was alive for over 24 hours after removing the oxygen,” Dorene said. “I’m full of maybe, what I should have done with the fan. . . (but) he walked through three vaccinated people.

She added: “I remember she was 105. We’re still talking about… my grandmother and my mother, the only thing that could kill them was a global pandemic.”


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