Back Channels: Learn stories behind names on Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Posted: October 21, 2012

Let me introduce you to a few people, courtesy of the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Daily News.

Rowland J. Adamoli, of Germantown, played football and soccer. He was an apprentice bricklayer who loved country music. He joined the Marines in 1961, and earned his high school diploma while serving. As things were heating up in Vietnam, he extended his enlistment so he'd be eligible for a tour there. "He was kind of a daring boy," his sister would say later.

Cpl. Adamoli, an amphibious tractor crew chief, was killed on Aug. 18, 1965, one of the first Marines from Philadelphia to die in Vietnam.

When the memorial was dedicated in 1987, the Daily News published a special section with brief biographies of each of the veterans whose names are on the wall. The newspaper updated the section with additional names in 2007. In honor of the 25th anniversary of the dedication, 646 bios, excerpted here, are now available at the memorial's website, www.pvvm.org.

Raymond J. Ahern Jr., of Holmesburg, was a Father Judge graduate drafted into the Army two weeks before Christmas 1967. He left behind a fiancée, but they were never to marry. The Army specialist, an artillery cannoneer with the First Cavalry Division, was killed near Saigon on Nov. 26, 1968. For 15 years after his death, his commanding officer sent flowers to be placed on his grave.

Twenty-seven Father Judge graduates would become casualties in Vietnam. Philadelphia's Thomas Edison High School bears the unfortunate distinction of having more casualties from that war - 54 - than any other high school in the nation.

Kenneth E. Aleshire, of Olney, known as "The Kid," was a star high school pitcher. Major-league scouts had their eye on him, and he arranged to be drafted early so he could fulfill his obligation to his country before getting on with his baseball career.

He was an Army specialist four, a rifleman, when his unit came under fire near Saigon on Feb. 27, 1968. Twice he drew fire to himself, which let others seek cover. Those actions cost him his life, and he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

For the last six years, supporters of the memorial have devoted considerable time and energy to fund-raising in order to upgrade, renovate, and repair the memorial at Front and Spruce Streets. Support for those efforts is still welcome.

Anthony Allen, of North Philadelphia, had volunteered to stay an extra week in Vietnam. On July 11, 1967, the 20-year-old Marine corporal was killed in Da Nang after a lightning bolt ignited grenades and anti-personnel mines stored in his bunker. The Murrell Dobbins Vocational High School graduate once wrote to his mother, "The only person Marines look up to is God."

This year's anniversary is focused on the stories of those the memorial honors. In addition to posting the bios, photos are being collected. The public is also welcome to add testimonials online, and some will be included in the program booklet for next weekend's ceremony.

John R. Aneli, of Collingdale, enlisted in the Army after graduating from Monsignor Bonner. While in the service, Aneli, who had come to the United States from Italy when he was a boy, started the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. He was hit by a truck in Vietnam and died on Aug. 7, 1967. He was granted citizenship posthumously four months later.

Next weekend's observances will begin with a candlelight ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Friday, followed by a reception at the Sheraton Society Hill, and an overnight vigil.

Charles J. Antonelly, of Port Richmond, left this note to the 4-month-old son he would see only once before shipping out to Vietnam:

"I know that you are much too young to understand what I say, but they say babies can understand everything for they know God. . . . We of the United States believe in freedom and have to defend this whenever necessary. I long to be home with you and your mother, but as such God prevents it, as it is His will that I am here. . . . Ask God to protect your mother and yourself until I get home. Tell God that you can be his personal representative down on earth to keep an eye on her and keep her well."

The 20-year-old Marine corporal was killed on Nov. 6, 1965, in the hamlet of Phu Bai, Quang Tri Province.

On Saturday, the Operation Brotherly Love II Parade will begin at 9 a.m. It is named for the effort to bring etchings of names from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington to Philadelphia. The rededication and POW/MIA ceremony will begin at noon at the memorial.

Bruce F. Anello, of Nicetown, nicknamed Buddy, a graduate of Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pa., was interested in wrestling and music - and poetry. His poem about the 1967 Christmas truce included the lines:

"I gaze on glistening spider webs that decorate my tree.

"And instead of balls and blinking lights, scars from bombs are what I see."

He told a friend of a recurring dream he had during a vacation in Taiwan:

"In the dream, Buddy said, he was walking up a long hill," the friend recalled. "There was thick elephant grass. 'I was trying to walk out of Vietnam,' Buddy said. 'I kept walking, and I couldn't get out. I knew I'd be in Vietnam the rest of my life.' "

The 20-year-old sergeant died in a firefight on May 31, 1968, and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

This is a very small sampling of so many moving stories, not even covering all those under the letter "A." Please take a moment to visit the website, www.pvvm.org, for more. And come out and support next weekend's events.

Edward M. Atkucunas, of Feltonville, died on May 10, 1969 - Mother's Day. His mother was about to go shopping for a radio to send to him when she received the news. The Marine lance corporal was 18 years old. His mother would later say, "His dreams? Well, he didn't have time to think of the future. He just wanted to fight for our country, to try to make it a better place to live in."


Contact Kevin Ferris at 215-854-5305 or kf@phillynews.com.

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