He was born in Sicily and got here to the United States when he was 11. In Niagara Falls, New York, he did not care a lot for college however grew to become an avid reader.
Joe Bongiovanni learn quite a bit about historical past and World War II. He grew to become fascinated with the Marines within the Pacific. He would keep up late so he may watch the scenes of the Iwo Jima flag elevating as the tv networks signed off for the evening.
"I wanted to become a Marine from a very young age," Bongiovanni mentioned.
He joined the Marines Feb. 9, 1967, in Niagara Falls because the Vietnam War raged. Bongiovanni spent 12 and a half months with the infantry in Vietnam from 1967-68. He would not turn out to be a naturalized U.S. citizen till 1975.
"Well it was a lot of excitement, a lot of anxiety," he mentioned of his warfare expertise. "A lot of combat. [I] saw a lot of our brothers getting killed and wounded."
Bongiovanni, who moved from Madison, Alabama, to Arley, Alabama, in 2016, has traveled the world since then with out assembly individuals from his hometown Niagara Falls. But curiously he encountered 4 individuals from there whereas he was in Vietnam. On the very first day he arrived, he noticed a man studying the Niagara Falls Gazette newspaper. Bongiovanni had gone to high school with him.
"What are the odds of that happening?" Bongiovanni mused.
He arrived in Vietnam in late August 1967 and left Sept. 9, 1968. He served within the 1st Platoon of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, third Marines, third Marine Division. They have been referred to as a particular touchdown drive, a particular response drive. When different models bought into a tricky spot, Bravo Company can be alerted and would get inserted principally by helicopter and some occasions by touchdown craft. With their operations based mostly in Quang Tri, they have been on the transfer up north within the I Corps. They have been proper on the North Vietnam border and have been continually receiving incoming rockets and mortars.
"We were called grunts. We were the ground pounders," Bongiovanni mentioned.
The components have been harsh. There was stifling warmth. There have been viruses and different illnesses. There have been insect bites. Jungle rot would infect your ft. The temperature would drop significantly at evening and it could get chilly. In the monsoon season, it could rain continually. "But your body becomes acclimated to it," Bongiovanni mentioned.
"It could be quiet. Then all of a sudden, all hell would break loose," he mentioned.
His unit was concerned in main engagements just like the Tet Offensive in January 1968 and the Battle of Dai Do, that April 30 to May 3, when it took heavy casualties.
"You remember the guys you were close with," Bongiovanni mentioned. "You keep in mind the hardships and also you study to understand life. I used to be 19 years previous. You study to understand the little issues.
"Sometimes I think about it and I shudder. About all the times I came close to dying. And you think why did I make it and so many didn't and sacrificed their [lives]."
Bongiovanni, who obtained the Combat Action Ribbon, left the Marines as a corporal in 1970. He lived in Madison from 2000 to2016 and was instrumental in beginning Heroes Week in 2007 with the Semper Fi Community Task Force.
At 72, he resides on Smith Lake in Arley together with his spouse of 40 years, Denice. They have two sons — Christopher, of Madison, and Jon, of Jasper, Alabama — and a granddaughter. Bongiovanni is a managing associate of Scott Crump Toyota in Jasper the place Jon is the supervisor of the gross sales division.
He enjoys fishing, going out on his pontoon boat and he is studying to play the guitar. He belongs to the Marine Corps League, the third Marine Division Association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
Bongiovanni shared his ideas on this nation's commemoration of fifty years for the reason that Vietnam War.
"I think it's wonderful," he mentioned. "And I think it's a long time coming."
(Skip Vaughn is an editor on the Redstone Rocket at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.)