91-Year-Old World War II Veteran Delivers Lessons as School Custodian

Ninety-one-year-old Tony Bretone has been cleaning classrooms at Willets Road Middle School on Long Island for 32 years, rarely missing a day, even after the death of his wife of 66 years. 

It might seem like pretty ordinary work in a place where kids come to learn -- until you talk to Bretone's co-workers. They say the custodian delivers lessons you can't learn from a book. 

"He teaches everybody here about perseverance and living life to the fullest," says principal Stephen Kimmel. 

"He is such a great role model," one teacher says. 

But Bretone says simply, "I like it here. It's become like a second home." 

For all he gets from the job, teachers say he gives back even more with his pearls of wisdom, his joy and his work ethic. 

"It doesn't matter what age you are, you can still do what you want to do," he says. 

Another teacher says, "He always jokes with me that 'if you keep moving and keep working, you can live forever.' I think he might be right." 

One of things Bretone doesn't talk much about as he cleans the classrooms in the Roslyn Heights school is how he helped write some of the very history the students learn about every day. He's a World War II veteran, a member of the Army's 36th Infantry division who survived the Normandy invasion, the Battle of the Bulge and more. 

"When I got out, my nerves were a little shot," he says. 

Bretone overcame the shock of combat with the help of his dad, a World War I veteran. And advice from his mother has driven everything else he's done since: "She said, 'do things right. Don't forget what I tell you,'" he said. 

Bretone has no intention of retiring, and the school wouldn't have it any other way.

"He truly is an inspiration," says Kimmel. 

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