Vietnam War Era Oral History interview
Date: October 6, 2011
Veteran: Michael Massoni
US Air Force 811th Medical Group
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Josh Gilbert
Michael Massoni was born in New York City’s Manhattan borough in November, 1946, and moved to Teaneck, New Jersey with his family while still a child. He was one of four children, along with three sisters. Prior to joining the military, Massoni was a high school student.
(Mike Massoni, standing, center)
In 1965 Massoni was in the process of enlisting in the United States Air Force when he coincidentally received a draft notice for Army service. After discussing his situation with two cousins who were also joining the military, he decided that pursuing the Air Force enlistment would be his best choice. One of the cousins also joined the Air Force. The other, Allen Gianelli, who was also drafted, decided on the Army because, as a draftee, he only needed to serve two years of active duty rather than the four that Air Force enlistment would require. Unfortunately, less than a week after arriving in Vietnam, Allen was killed by an anti-personnel mine. The tragedy of Allen’s death was hard for Massoni to deal with; but, since he was in the Air Force at the time, he knew he would need to move past it.
Massoni completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. At the time, he hated basic training and could not wait for it to be over. Later in life, however, he came to consider his time in boot camp as a very good thing and a great learning experience. He recalls today that he broadened his world view and learned a lot by living with people from all across the country and hearing their life stories. He now believes that all citizens should do some sort of military duty in order to instill responsibility and accountability.
While in basic training, the Air Force gave trainees an exam to determine which job each airman was best equipped for. Massoni was given the option of becoming a military policeman (M.P.) or a medic. He chose to be a medic, because he thought he would be “more well-liked” by his fellow soldiers than he would have been as an M.P. He completed his medical training at Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Life in Alabama in the 1960s subjected Massoni to what he described as severe “culture shock.” He had never traveled far outside the New York-New Jersey area and had never experienced the kind of segregation and racism he encountered in the South. It was during his time in Alabama, he recalled, that “the seeds were planted” for the social activism he engaged in later in life.
Following his training at Gunter, Massoni was stationed at Loring Air Force Base in Maine, where he spent the next three years as a medic assigned to the 811th Medical Group. Including military and civilian personnel, roughly 15,000 people lived at Loring. Massoni explained that his job was similar to that of a civilian Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) today. He and his fellow airmen in the unit were part of the medical team that responded to both military and civilian emergency situations.
Michael Massoni was discharged from active duty in May 1969, and spent the following two years in the inactive reserve, in order to fulfill his six year service commitment. In 1980, Massoni got a job at the New Jersey Bell Phone Company, where he worked until his retirement in 2010. He quickly became involved in union activities and in 1988, he was elected union president, a role he fulfills to this day.