Rick Bamonto served in the U.S. Marine Corps. in Vietnam in the second Battalion ninth Marine regiment in the third Marine division.
His unit was known as "Hell in a Helmet." His duties included being an M79 grenade launcher and handling an M-16 automatic rifle and M-60 machine gun.
Military combat operations Bamonto participated in included Operation Macon, Operation Mississippi, Operation Gulf, Operation Sterling, and Operation Lancaster 11.
He married Mary (Tomkiewicz) Bamonto in 1970.
They have two children, Richard Leo and Mia, and three grandchildren: Luca, Tessa and Quinn.
Rick Bamonto always wanted to become a Marine. The Vietnam War was shifting into second gear and Bamonto figured it was time to enlist.
After graduation and summer coming to an end and just doing odd jobs his future will now be in the hands of the U.S. Marine Corps. He signed the papers and before boot camp had even started he was given the responsibility by his recruiter to make sure that two other new enlistees from our area would arrive at Parris Island with him.
A young man of 19 years now headed for South Carolina to a place he's only seen in pictures. Back then as most military men leaving for boot camp he had to take a train to the island. This was an experience itself traveling on your own with two others not knowing what tomorrow will bring.
Arriving at Parris Island and reporting in the first three days are a living hell. As in most cases at Parris Island, the Marine Corps have you report in the early hours of morning, normally at 4:30 a.m. They keep you awake the entire day and always keep you on your feet once you are totally exhausted. They inform you that the official first day of boot camp will start the next day. This happened to Rick. The following 12 weeks were typical Parris Island normal Marine Corp boot camp living hell. Knowing Southeast Asia will be your home in the very short future.
Now officially a U.S. Marine. Rick was heading on a bus to Camp Lejeune, N.C. There Rick was trained in the use of the M-14 rifle; the M 79 grenade launcher; the M-60 machine gun; and the 50 caliber machine gun along with the Claymore mine and your basic hand grenades. When all that was done he took a trip to the famous Marine Corp gas chamber, which as the former World War II Marines had to and as the old timers before them. He then entered, tested his gas mask then took it off and then had to sing the entire Marine Corp hymm while breathing in this undescribable smell, before he could leave.
After all this training the Marine Corp felt that Rick could serve his fellow Marines with handling the M-79 grenade launcher. Marine units in Vietnam never left the wire without a few M-79 launchers. It was a weapon that actually launched grenades at the enemy from distances farther than a man can throw a hand grenade. Always used in firefights and ambushes and always used in the first wave of the firefight.
Rick then headed for Camp Joseph J. Pendelton in Cali. At that time Camp Pendelton served two purposes for the Vietnam War. It provided schools for the different jobs performed in the Marine Corp and it was also used as a stagging battalion for Marines having orders for Vietnam after boot camp and Camp Lejune. A Marine was sent to Camp Pendelton as his last stop before heading for Vietnam and in most cases to a combat unit.
The staging battalion would teach marines on items to survive in Vietnam, the jungles, the heat, the customs, and the enemy. Marines were taught to respect the women and children of South Vietnam. They were also taught what to do if captured, or if you had been separated from your unit, all in a 28 day timeframe.
The day came and Rick boarded a government contracted airline on Continental Air 727. Rick headed for Vietnam by a routine Marine Corp stop at Camp Hansen in Okinawa. There they would receive all their shots, store all their non-combat clothing and items not needed in Vietnam. Also they could make out their last will and take care of legal matters. The next step would be to board the plane to South Vietnam.
Rick entered Vietnam landing in Danang, South Vietnam, the rear headquarters of the third Marine division. He then was assigned up north to the second battalion 9th Marines (Hell in a Helmet). The ninth marines were assigned to I Corp which worked the DMZ. The DMZ was the northern position located near the Ben Hai River which divided the north from the south, this was a free fire zone. Anyone walking in this area was presumed to be the enemy. Rick's company duties were to help and serve the local friendly Vietnamese and keep the NVA, North Vietnamese Army, from harassing the villages. Its other duties were to participate in search and destroy patrols and participate in combat operations along the DMZ and leatherneck square areas.
Rick had come down with malaria while on patrol and was taken to the USS sanctuary. Rick had been administered his last rights fearing the malaria had taken its toll. Luckily, after spending a month on the ship, he was sent back to his unit. Rick spent the rest of his tour with his unit. He still suffered from the after effects of malaria. The Vietnam War left this country divided. The timing of Rick's tour wasn't the best, coming back from Vietnam in the late '60s and early '70s was not a hero's return. He came home and kept quiet and went on as if nothing had happened. Some of the things he had seen and done will never be forgotten. How can we as a country forget?
A town in Beallsville, Ohio, with a population of only 567 people lost six men in that war. In the state of West Virginia for every 100,000 of its population it had lost 40 to this war. The Thomas Edison High School of Philadephia had lost 54 of its clasmates to that war. A small town in Arizona called Morenci whosr high school football team bonded nine team members to enlist in Marine Corp after graduation ended up having six come home in body bags.
In a 16-day span three close friends all living within 100 yards of each other in a small neighorhood lost their lives all in Vietnam. There was Danny Bullock, he was the youngest Vietnam Veteran killed. He was only 15 years old. There was Dwaine McGriff who was 48 years older then Danny Bullock, he was killed at age 63, the oldest Vietnam veteran. Five 16-year-old veterans lost their lives in that war. Twelve 17-year-old veterans lost their lives to that war. A total of 17,230 married men were killed in that war. The same number of married women were made widows in that war.
A staggering 9,340 children never got to see their fathers again because of that war.
That war took the lives of eight women veterans and 16 chaplains. That war took 667 veterans whose last name was Smith. On the first day in Vietnam, 997 veterans were killed. A heartbreaking 1,448 veterans were killed on the very last day of their tour. The deadliest day was Jan. 31, 1968, in which 254 veterans lost their lives. The deadliest month was May 1968 with 2,415 lives were lost. That war took 35 sets of brothers and three sets of father and sons.
This is the war Rick and all Vietnam veterans saw, it wasn't like any other war witnessed before. It was on TV every day and the country only saw the bad things. The things that sold the magazines and kept the TV channels on.
The veterans like Rick who actually witnessed this war will never forget it. When you see Rick on the street welcome him home, if he doesn't respond quickly it's that his mind may be elsewhere for that one second. For people like Rick Bamonto that war will never be forgotten. That is why Rick is our hero of the week.