98-year-old WWII veteran who still works at grocery store gets surprise birthday party from coworkers

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Bennie Ficeto loved the USO singers that sang him songs he remembered from his days in the Air Force. CBS NEWS

Bartholomeo “Bennie” Ficeto is turning 98 years old this week, but he’s not interested in retiring. He still works at the Stop & Shop in Edison, New Jersey, as a “bag boy,” and wouldn’t want it any other way.

“You got to enjoy work, you got to enjoy what you’re doing. I see people running around and saying ‘Oh, I have to go to work!'” he told CBS News as he bagged groceries on Tuesday. “That’s ridiculous.” 

Ficeto doesn’t complain about a little hard work. In fact, he hopes to pick up an extra shift.

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Bennie Ficeto works two days a week and his hoping to pick up another shift. He never takes breaks, either. But on Tuesday, his manager made him take one – for his surprise 98th birthday party. CBS NEWS

The New Jersey native has always been a hard worker. He told CBS News he enlisted in the military when he was about 19 years old. He served in the Air Force during World War II, flying a B-25 Mitchell bomber over North Africa and Italy. He said the hardest part about his time in service was losing his friends.

“When they went on a mission, they got shot down. They took my place because my hand was swelled up,” he remembered. He said he was injured after getting a cut on his hand, and that injury ended up saving his life. 

“Fighters were hitting us bad. They never came back. The kid that took my place, never came back,” he said. 

Ficeto held several jobs after his time in the Air Force and retired in his 80s — but he just couldn’t stop working. So, 10 years ago, he got a part-time job at Stop & Shop. 

He still works two shifts a week, four hours each. His manager, Sal Marconi, says he’s a pleasure to work with. “Bennie’s got a great sense of humor. He loves his job. He’s a great inspiration and morale booster for everyone else,” Marconi told CBS News.

Ficeto never takes a break during his shift — he says it’s a waste of time. But on Tuesday, Marconi made him take one. Little did he know, there was a surprise party being set up for him at the other end of the store. 

“He’s somewhat of a local hero, so we wanted to give back to him. So, we came up with this party for him,” Marconi said.

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Bennie Ficeto was shocked by the surprise birthday party. He thanked his coworkers profusely, but didn’t stay long – he hates taking breaks, after all. CBS NEWS

Marconi walked Ficeto over to the front of the store, where his coworkers were secretly waiting to shout “surprise” and sing “Happy Birthday.” A USO Show Troupe was also there to serenade the veteran. Three singers dressed in red, white, and blue sang some of his favorite songs from his time in the military.

Ficeto was astounded by the surprise and thanked his coworkers profusely. “I shouldn’t even be here!” the humble veteran said. “Yes you should!” a coworker responded.

The birthday boy cut his coworkers some cake, but he didn’t stay at the party long — he hates taking breaks, after all. He quickly went back to bagging groceries in lane No. 4.

Over the years, Bennie Ficeto not only kept his work ethic, he also kept his sense of humor. When asked if he had ever been married, he jokingly said, “What’s that?”

He also shared what he believes to be the secret to his longevity. “Keep your mouth shut, and never, never contradict anybody. Just walk away from an argument. And everybody will love you and talk to you and everything else,” he said. And then, he went back to bagging.

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