The Johnston man, a Vietnam veteran, held a small scrap of paper up to the bowling alley’s fluorescent lights and neon. On the handwritten list he scrawled five names of friends who fought by …
The Johnston man, a Vietnam veteran, held a small scrap of paper up to the bowling alley’s fluorescent lights and neon. On the handwritten list he scrawled five names of friends who fought by his side but never made it home.
This weekend, retired U.S. Army Sgt. John Tammelleo will find those names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, cover each with paper and make a copy by gently rubbing across the engraved letters.
“I served with some people who never got back,” Tammelleo said. “I’ve got some names I want to find and rub.”
After league play on Tuesday at Meadowbrook Lanes in Warwick, a pair of Vietnam veterans reflected on war, lost friends and bowling with good buddies. Tammelleo and retired Corp. Mario DeAngelis, also a Johnston resident, are both 75 and both served in the Army during the Vietnam era. On Sunday, both men will be flying to Washington D.C. to visit our nation’s most somber and esteemed national war memorials as passengers on the 29th Rhode Island Honor Flight.
Belated Welcome Home
“It’s humbling,” DeAngelis recalled while seated at the bowling alley. “When we were in uniform and walked through the airport, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.”
The automated pinsetter crashed simultaneously across all the lanes, clearing stray balls and waddling duckpins, punctuating the veteran’s shared 50-year-old memory.
“They didn’t treat us well,” agreed Tammelleo, an infantryman who served in Vietnam from 1968-1970. DeAngelis served in Germany from 1969-1971.
Tammelleo is a Johnston native. DeAngelis was born and raised in Providence but lived most of his adult life in Cranston, prior to moving to Johnston just a few years ago. The two men are related by marriage.
They represent the latest Honor Flight generation. The wars in which the participants fought have changed, but the Rhode Island Fire Chiefs Honor Flight Hub mission persists.
Founded in 2012 by former Providence Fire Chief George Farrell, the group took Rhode Island Honor Flight number 28, codenamed “Freedom,” on Monday, June 19.
The pair of Johnston men will have guardians accompanying them on the trip (guardians pay their own way and help each veteran on the day-long whirlwind trip). They expect to visit the wall, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), and Arlington National Cemetery. Their flight leaves around 5 a.m. and they expect to return around midnight.
“I just wanted to go for the comradery,” Tammelleo said. “I thought to myself, ‘Let me give it a shot.’”
Flight No. 29
According to Farrell, 55 veterans will fly out of Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport on Sunday, a mixture of Honor Flight honorees and younger guardians who also served.
“When we started, our first flight was in November 2012, we were exclusively taking World War II veterans,” he recalled. “When you take into account — 16 million men and women served in World War II, only maybe, at best, less than 150,000 are still with us … But we’re proud we’ve been able to do the job and give them the welcome home they didn’t get.”
Veterans interested in joining the 30th Rhode Island Honor Flight can start submitting their applications. The date has yet to be set, but planning is underway.
“Putting in an application is the first thing they need to do,” Farrell said. “Applications for the next flight are coming in. We take veterans based on where and when they served (veterans who served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as well as any terminally ill veteran, move to the top of the list). The application for a veteran and a guardian are on our website (www.honorflightri.com). Fill it out and that’s how you get on a flight.”
Farrell encouraged all Ocean State veterans to consider the offer.
“If they want to fly, and we have the skill, we’ll take them,” Farrell said. “If their doctor lets them fly, we’ll have the skills.”
His organization is always accepting donations. The funding will help fund future flights.
“It takes a significant amount of money,” Farrell explained. “It’s costly. Fundraising is important. If anyone would like to donate, they can do that on our website as well.”
Tammelleo and DeAngelis bowled together for years at the now demolished Town Hall Lanes in Johnston.
They miss the town’s little duckpin bowling alley.
“I bowled there for so many years,” Tammelleo said. “They were getting ready for a grand re-opening. And then they closed.”
The bowling veterans joined the Rhody Rollers, a Warwick league. They still play together every Tuesday, but their drive’s a bit longer.
On Sunday, they’ll travel to the nation’s capital, back in time, and then back to Rhode Island, all in a single day. And Tammelleo hopes to trade his little scrap of paper for five carbon copies, each bearing the immortalized name of a friend lost in war, treasured mementos he’ll keep for the rest of his days.
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