The Grand Marshal of the 104th Elmhurst Memorial Day Parade is former Elmhurst resident Robert J. “Bob” Fonzino, a U.S. Army Lieutenant and Medalist Platoon Leader as a Vietnam War Veteran .
“To me, Memorial Day is a day of reflection,” Fonzino said, “a day to honor and remember those who gave their lives serving in the armed forces of the United States of America during wartime. . They are a special group of people, who answered when our country called.”
Fonzino fought in Vietnam from July 1968 to May 1969 as the first platoon leader for Company B, 2nd Battalion (Mechanized), 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, quickly earning a promotion to Second Lieutenant at first mate.
Assigned to a mechanized unit based at Camp Enari east of Pleiku in the central highlands of South Vietnam, Fonzino regularly led 30 to 36 soldiers in convoys of M113 armored combat carriers, mostly on search and rescue missions. destruction against regulars of the North Vietnamese army (NVA). , Viet Cong and what even appeared to be Chinese troops.
During several of these missions, Fonzino’s platoon was ambushed by enemy forces.
“Our vehicles had diesel engines which were louder (than gasoline ones),” Fonzino said, “so they could hear us coming a mile away.”
Even Fonzino’s very first mission – under orders to recover the bodies of American soldiers killed in an ambush only the day before – ended in a surprise and heated firefight, but his men recovered all of their dead comrades without suffer losses.
Fonzino recalled similar ambushes on September 26 and again on October 8, the latter in which the metal alloy barrel of the M113’s Browning-made M2 .50 caliber machine gun bent due to the heat generated by his shot, the enemy suffering. 25 to 30 dead.
In March 1969, while Fonzino was absent on orders to testify at the trial of a soldier who had absented himself without official permission, members of his platoon were killed after being resupplied and artillery outpost when Sergeant in charge mistakenly took the same route back to camp.
“I remember writing to their loved ones back home,” Fonzino said, “and sharing their family’s pain with mine.”
In 1986, Fonzino joined about 30 members of his company of 120 to tour the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at Memorial Park in Washington, D.C.
“Some of these men who died, I knew them well,” Fonzino said. “They were my friends, most of them very close friends. I remember them as people who were part of my life, even for a short significant period.”
His service awards include the 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 Marksmanship Expert qualification badges with pistol bar for the 45 caliber and with rifle bar for the M14 and M16.
Given that he also flew some 25 aerial reconnaissance missions, Fonzino was likely eligible for the Army Air Medal.
After being drafted in September 1966, Fonzino completed eight weeks of basic training at Ft. Campbell in Tennessee, eight weeks of advanced armor training at Ft. Knox in Kentucky, and 26 weeks of officer candidate school at Ft. . Benning in Georgia, graduating in August 1967.
Fonzino then served as a training officer at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri before spending two weeks in Panama at a jungle training school.
Fonzino is the long-time owner of the Bilancio Salon and Day Spa in downtown Elmhurst, and past chairman of the Elmhurst Park Board of Commissioners and the Elmhurst Town Center Board of Trustees. He opened the barber shop in March 1976 as Headlines and renamed Robert Samuel Headlines and then Bilancio.
After his military discharge in 1972, Fonzino returned to college first at the College of DuPage, then at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago as a psychology major before enrolling in the downtown Tricoci School of Hair. of Elmhurst, where he became good friends with his brothers. Mario and Frank Tricoci.
A resident of Lombard since 2004, Fonzino and his family moved from Chicago to Elmhurst when he was six. 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.