April 24, 1920-May 31, 2018
Alphonse “Al” Vessella, 98, passed away on May 31, 2018. Al was the youngest of nine and the apple of his father’s eye. His parents were Francesco and Scholastica, two Italian immigrants from Caserta. As a teenager, Al wanted to become a “movie technician”--- He never did, but the events unfolding in his life were the stuff of which movies are made.
In the early 1940s, Al was drafted into WWII; His father, having been a captain in the Italian army during wartime, was devastated. Francesco never wanted a child of his to see war. Al’s father successfully delayed his son’s draft several times, but the moment of reckoning finally arrived: Al was going to war. It was February 1943. The night before Al’s departure, the family gathered for a farewell dinner at their home on 53 What Cheer Avenue in Providence. After dessert, everyone went home, sadly, and went to bed. Al’s father never awoke: Francesco died that night of a broken heart. He was 75.
A month after burying his father, Al enlisted and went to Europe. During combat, he was seriously wounded, but his father’s spirit was with him. While lying injured, two German soldiers approached him, picked him up, and carried him to safety. The moments and humanity they shared saved his life. It was Christmas.
Al was moved to a hospital in Italy where he befriended the nuns taking care of him. He was then transferred back to the states to recover. Al received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for bravery. He attended Brown University on the GI Bill and began courting Rose Rotella, the daughter of two Italian immigrants living in Cranston. Al and Rose fell in love strolling on an old footpath along the water which he called their “lovers’ lane;” It was just south of Pitman Street on the East Side of Providence. The newlyweds received a priceless gift: The nuns created a sacred oil painting of the Madonna in blue cradling her baby next to an adoring Joseph and sent it to them. Rose predeceased Al after many happy years of marriage, but the painting stayed with him as his prized possession, hanging above his bed until the warm Spring day when he died.