100-year-old WWII veteran, with five generations of family watching, gets overdue medals
By ELIZABETH DINAN | Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H. | Published: July 19, 2019
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — A member of the World War II Flying Tigers squadron, who manned a B-25 belly gun and cobbled together radio networks in the field, Antonio "Tony" Vaccaro, 100, was presented with five military medals Friday during a ceremony attended by five generations of his family.
The medals were presented in City Hall, where a parking space with Vaccaro's name was reserved at the front door and a line of people waited inside to shake his hand and thank him for his service. His Army jacket, with the Flying Tigers patch on the right shoulder and a communications patch on the right cuff, was displayed with Vaccaro's photo albums and news clippings.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who helped Vaccaro's family secure the awards, noted he could probably still fit into the Army jacket. Vaccaro removed his Flying Tigers cap and placed it over his heart while he joined the group in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
In attendance to honor him were City Councilor Nancy Pearson, state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, state Rep. Laura Pantelakos, City Manager John Bohenko, Deputy City Manager Nancy Colbert Puff, City Attorney Robert Sullivan, City Clerk Kelli Barnaby and dozens of community members. They learned Vaccaro pledges his allegiance to the flag at his home daily and was grateful members of the neighboring Army National Guard trimmed trees to clear his view to the flag.
Mayor Jack Blalock thanked Vaccaro for "all he has contributed to our country" and called it a pleasure to be in his presence.
Shaheen said Vaccaro's stories have been recorded as part of the Veterans History Project, and she shared some of the highlights. She said he worked at the WHEB radio station in Portsmouth as an engineer and when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he wanted to join the Army. He was informed the only way he could enlist was to find a replacement engineer for the radio station, which he did so he could serve.
Shaheen said Vaccaro told his wife Eleanor he'd get "a land job" with the Army, but ended up as communications chief with the Flying Tigers. The senator said Vaccaro was among the first to hear the Japanese had surrendered and after his service, he returned to Portsmouth, where he's a member of the local Elks lodge and a founder of the Seacoast Sons of Italy.
"With a sense of humility, like others of his generation, he never sought recognition," Shaheen said.
When a friend of the family asked Shaheen to check Vaccaro's personnel file, it was discovered he was owed five medals. Brig. Gen. Bill Conway on Friday presented those medals to Vaccaro.
Presented in a display box, Vaccaro was awarded the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Expert Marksmanship Badge with Rifle Bar and the Honorable Service Lapel Button.
Conway called World War II veterans "extra special" and said they're like "rock stars" to younger members of the military like himself.
"It's like a high school kid meeting LeBron James," he said.
Conway said the medals presented to Vaccaro include some of the most respected awards in the Army. He told Vaccaro, "As a brother soldier, I'd like to thank you for your service."
After a standing ovation, Vaccaro was asked if he'd like to say anything.
"Thank you everybody for coming," he said. "That's all."
On this special day, Antonio Vaccaro finally received the medals he was entitled to for his brave and selfless service as a communications chief for the Flying Tigers squadron in China during WWII. Thankful to have the honor to host the medals ceremony of a true American hero. pic.twitter.com/z3wadI0KxI— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (@SenatorShaheen) July 19, 2019