Robert M. Rossetti could not wait to become a Marine.

"At Frankford High School, he did not graduate," daughter Peggy Ciccone said.

"He falsified his birth date so that he could go into the Marine Corps because he wanted to fight in World War II," she said. He was only 16.

He got his wish.

From September to November 1944, Mr. Rossetti fought alongside the Marines who routed the Japanese from the South Pacific island of Peleliu.

"What he told me was he was very lucky," said Bill Darling, a friend of 40 years. Around him on the island, "most of the guys were dead or shot. But he survived."

On Wednesday, March 4, Mr. Rossetti, 88, of Stone Harbor, N.J., a former builder and owner of apartment buildings in Northeast Philadelphia, died of melanoma at home.

"The only thing that may have saved him" on Peleliu, Darling speculated, "was he was 5-foot-2." Maybe, he said, "he hunkered down enough to stay out of the line of fire."

One trait carried over into civilian life. "He was a scrappy little guy," Darling said. "He epitomizes the saying it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Rossetti had lived in Stone Harbor since 1979.

After the war, he was a tile setter for contractors before setting up his own firm, Rossetti Tile & Mosaics in Northeast Philadelphia, which he ran in the 1950s and '60s, his daughter said.

"In the 1970s, he was in apartment construction," she said, and he became a general contractor, building garden apartment complexes across the Northeast.

"He stopped building in the mid-80s," she said, but continued to maintain them until selling them in the early 2000s.

But he never forgot his Marine Corps roots.

With a group of historians from California, his daughter said, Mr. Rossetti returned to Peleliu in 1994 with other veterans to mark the 50th anniversary of the battle.

"He was proud to be an American, very proud to have served as a Marine," she said.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Rossetti earned a pilot's license and flew his own single-engine Piper until the 1970s to Florida, upstate Pennsylvania, and New Orleans.

In the 1980s and '90s, she said, he turned to tuna fishing from his Bertram boat over the Baltimore Canyon, 20 to 30 miles off Atlantic City.

And he was a member, among other clubs, of the Torresdale-Frankford Country Club, the Yacht Club of Stone Harbor, and the Order Sons of Italy in America.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Rossetti is survived by son Joseph; seven grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. His wife of 61 years, Margaret, died in 2010.

Visitation will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 10, at St. Paul's Church, 99th Street and Third Avenue, Stone Harbor, before an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass there, with interment at Head of the River Cemetery, Estell Manor.

Donations may be sent to the charity of one's choice.

Condolences may be offered to the family at www.radzieta.com.

610-313-8134 @WNaedele