Vietnam veteran Bob Fonzino to be grand marshal for Elmhurst Memorial Day Parade
The grand marshal for Elmhurst's 104th Memorial Day Parade is former Elmhurst resident Robert J. "Bob" Fonzino, a United States Army lieutenant and medal-winning platoon leader as a Vietnam War combat veteran.
"For me, Memorial Day is a day of reflection," stated Fonzino, "a day to honor and remember those who gave their lives while serving in the armed forces of the United States of America during wartime. They are a group of special people, who answered when our country called."
Fonzino fought in Vietnam from July of 1968 through May of 1969 as the First Platoon Leader for Company B, 2nd Battalion (Mechanized), 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, quickly earning a promotion from Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant.
Assigned to a mechanized unit based out of Camp Enari east of Pleiku in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, Fonzino regularly led 30 to 36 troops in convoys of M113 Armored Personnel Combat Carriers mostly on search and destroys mission against North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars, Viet Cong and what even appeared to be Chinese troops.
On many of those missions, Fonzino's platoon suffered ambushes by enemy forces.
"Our vehicles had diesel engines which were louder (than gasoline-powered)," Fonzino stated, "so they could hear us coming a mile away."
Even Fonzino's very first mission -- on orders to recover the bodies of U.S. soldiers killed during an ambush only the day before -- ended up in a surprise and heated fire fight, but his men recovered all of their dead comrades without suffering any casualties.
Fonzino recalled similar ambushes on Sept. 26 and then again on Oct. 8, the latter at which the metal alloy barrel on the M113's Browning-made M2 .50-caliber machine gun bent from the heat generated by his shooting, with the enemy suffering 25 to 30 fatalities.
In March of 1969, with Fonzino away on orders to testify at the trial of private who went AWOL (away without official leave), members of his platoon were killed after resupplying and artillery outpost when the Sargeant in charge erroneously took the same route back to camp.
"I remember writing to their loved ones back home," Fonzino stated, "and sharing their family's pain along with my own."
In 1986, Fonzino joined some 30 members of his company of 120 to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Memorial Park in Washington, D.C.
"Some of those men who died, I knew well," stated Fonzino. "They were my friends, most very close friends. I remember them as people who were part of my life, even for just a short, important time."
His service awards include Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Stars, Combat Infantryman Bage, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation and Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal First Class Unit Citation. He also earned Expert Marksmanship Qualification Badges with Pistol Bar for 45-caliber and with Riffle Bar for both M14 and M16.
Given that he also flew in some 25 air reconnaissance missions, Fonzino was likely eligible for the Army's Air Medal.
Following his drafting in September of 1966, Fonzino attended eight weeks of basic training at Ft. Campbell in Tennessee, eight weeks of advance armor training at Ft. Knox in Kentucky and 26 weeks of Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning in Georgia, graduating the latter in August of 1967.
Fonzino then served as a training officer at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri before spending two weeks in Panama attending jungle training school.
Fonzino is the long-time owner of Bilancio Salon and Day Spa in downtown Elmhurst, and former president of both the Elmhurst Park Board of Commissioners and Elmhurst City Centre Board of Directors. He opened the hair salon in March of 1976 as Headlines and rebranded as Robert Samuel Headlines and then Bilancio.
Following his military discharge in 1972, Fonzino resumed his academic studies first at the College of DuPage and then Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago as a psychology major before enrolling at the then-Tricoci School of Hair in downtown Elmhurst, where he became goods friends with brothers Mario and Frank Tricoci.
A resident of Lombard since 2004, Fonzino and his family moved from Chicago to Elmhurst when he was six years old. He attended Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 elementary and middle school before graduating from York Community High School in 1965.
Fonzino and his York High School sweetheart, Elizabeth, will celebrate 55 years of marriage in September.