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Veteran Oral History - Victor Mennella

  • War/Conflict: Vietnam-era
  • Veteran: Victor Mennella
  • Organization: US Army, Quartermaster Corps
  • Date: October 21, 2011
  • Interviewer: Carol Fowler
  • Summarizer: Taryn O’Mara
  • Editor: Professor Melissa Ziobro, Monmouth University

Victor Mennella was born in 1947 in Newark, New Jersey and raised in Union, New Jersey. He graduated from high school in 1965, received a draft notice in 1966, and was inducted into the United States army on January 9, 1967. Mennella and many of the men he would serve with in the army were born between the years of 1940 to 1952, making most of them part of the “Baby Boomer” generation. Mennella entered the service with his two best friends. Everyone he knew was asking them whether or not they thought they were going to Vietnam. Mennella noted that he was raised to be very patriotic, and his willingness to serve his country, no matter where that might be, was never an issue.

Mennella’s transition from civilian life to military life was difficult, as he was newly engaged to be married. His future brother-in-law was already serving overseas in Vietnam. Mennella was assigned to basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey in the middle of the winter, which made for a rather harsh experience. Prior to his induction, he had joined his local YMCA to get in shape and prepare for what was lying ahead of him.

Mennella perceived that what his eventual army job would be was based on the scores he made on his aptitude tests. He recalled that he had been educated in a quality Catholic school, and believed that was why he scored well and was selected for the “Engineer Supply Parts Specialist” Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) in the Quartermaster Corps. After basic training he attended a ten week Advanced Individual Training (AIT) school in his specialty, which included daily classes that sometimes lasted until 3:00 AM. Mennella recalled that there were many instances when his classes were dull and monotonous.

Barracks at Fort Meade Maryland in the 1950's

Barracks at Fort Meade Maryland in the 1950's

After completing MOS training, Mennella was assigned to Fort Meade, Maryland for fifteen months. During those fifteen months, he was never assigned to any task related to his MOS training. Mennella and his fellow soldiers at Fort Meade were assured that they were being prepared for assignment to Vietnam, but every time an alleged deployment date approached, something fell through. He was put on alert for duty in domestic disturbances in Baltimore and Newark. While Mennella said that the possibility of going to Vietnam did not frighten him at all, he was never actually deployed, and so he is therefore considered to be a “Vietnam-era veteran.” Not serving overseas while so many others did initially caused Mennella to feel guilty, a feeling that he overcame with time.

While at Fort Meade, Mennella was due to be promoted to the rank of specialist 4th class, but he lost his temper with his platoon sergeant and was put on restrictive duty as a punishment. He did eventually earn the rank, however. Mennella was also involved in a very serious car accident that left three men injured. One man lost his memory entirely from a terrible head wound. Mennella broke a few ribs and his hand while also injuring his neck, which led to neuropathy and to losing range of motion.

Mennella recalled, contrary to the recollections of many other veterans, that army food was “fantastic.” When he was assigned to kitchen police (KP) duty, he got to eat before anyone else, and the cook would make him anything he requested. Although the army menu was supposed to be the same around the world on any given day, Mennella recalled that he was told that food preparation varied according to locations. In the South, for example, the cooks would be Southern, and therefore the food cooked would be Southern style.

Mennella was honorably discharged from the army in January, 1969, after two years of active duty. He recalled that on a flight to Seattle on his way to Fort Lewis, Washington, his last duty station, he encountered many disrespectful civilians who were calling him names. Mennella said many soldiers traveling in public during this period experienced this sort of treatment from civilians. Despite this bad experience, Mennella made it clear that, when the war in Afghanistan started, he was ready to return to the uniform and go overseas, even if it was as militia, because he had always wanted to fight. Despite his age, he said, “I’ll always be a soldier.”

At this time of his interview, Mennella had been out of the Army for over forty years and had retired from his job at Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSEG), which had given him “Veterans’ Preference” in hiring, and where he had worked for over thirty years. He was filing paperwork for “Disabled Veterans” status relevant to the hand injury suffered in the service. Mennella said he prides himself in educating other veterans about certain benefits to which they, too, might be entitled, especially veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.

Mennella mentioned his wife, three children, and grandchildren very often during the interview. When he is not with his family, he can be found participating in his hobby of target shooting at Fort Dix with friends. Mennella noted that he received a marksmanship medal in the army.

In closing, Mennella stated that he was raised by very overprotective parents, and appreciated the independence the army afforded him. He expressed his gratitude toward the army, and he noted how grateful he was to have served his country. Mennella declared that, in retrospect, serving in the United States army was one of the greatest accomplishments in his life.

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