John Dell’Isola

A UNION OF STRANGERS
Paul’s Legacy, a Friend’s Quest, a Veteran’s Memory, and a Sister’s Wait

Dear Tony

John Dell’Isola: 1969
John Dell: “when I was in the military 1969 – shortly after Paul was KIA”
Being a chopper gunner yourself, I wanted to share this special story with you. You may post all or part of it as you wish or just let it touch you in a special way as it did me. You may recall that because of discovering your wonderful site and a subsequent post, I have had contact with my childhood friend – Paul Paramatto’s sister Florence. Paul was KIA in Vietnam in 1968.

Because of the awareness of sites like yours, I searched out other sites. In particular there is one called the virtual wall where one can post remembrances for all who were KIA in Vietnam, replicating the real Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. One day there was a post beside mine from one Tom Hoover. After contacting Tom it seems that Tom was Paul’s platoon leader.

The following exchanges bring to life one man’s bravery, 37 years later.

God Bless you Mate,
John

Webmasters Note: Paul was called “Winky” by his mates, because of a slight eye droop due to a birth defect. Paul’s sister and Tom have spoken directly as a result of this inclusion on the IWVPA website.

Cookie, John, and Paul: BrooklynDear Tom,

I saw your post on the Virtual Wall site.

Paul and I were childhood friends, we lived 2 doors apart and as you expressed in your tribute to him he was a brave soldier. Even as a young boy he had no fear of anything… he used to say “I don’t sweat nothing but the sun.”

I still have contact with his sister and as you can imagine she is still suffering his loss. Paul’s father was a NYC police officer. A tough but gentle man… when the boys on the block had loose baby teeth, he used to yank them out with a pair of pliers. He often took us boys to the park, the zoo, the circus and old Ebbets field to see the Brooklyn Dodgers.

If you could tell me anything of my childhood friend or send a photo of him in uniform, it would be greatly treasured. Here’s a photo of us attached at a very young age on our block in Brooklyn (Paul on right, me in middle).

My story: I was drafted in 1969 and served in Ft. Belvior, VA and in a construction engineer company in Germany as a Draftsman… God spared me for some reason… but I am so grateful and thankful to all the brave vets who did go to Vietnam and served so gallantly in a turbulent time of America’s history and for the 58,000 like Paul who gave all.

We lost another brave friend on our street in 1966 – Anthony “Spiffy” Abruzese, who was in an artillery unit, to a grenade accident.

God Bless you and all our brave vets.

Sincerely,
John Dell’Isola

Dear John,

Who could ever forget “Winky”? That’s what we called him in the platoon. That is, White Platoon, D Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. Winky always had great stories about home in Brooklyn, which we all loved to hear.

Scaramouche was his Super Hero. He’d run through the platoon area with, sword in hand and a silly cape that he liberated from god knows where, laughing and having a great time. Winky had one quirk… He would never “burn shit”. It was a daily task for each platoon to pour diesel fuel on the 55-gallon drums full of deposits. Winky absolutely refused to do it.

What could I do? He was such a valuable part of any mission that we were assigned, that I made an exception for him.

Lot’s of guys volunteered for the burning, to avoid another day of potential danger. Not Winky: he would much rather be in the field than do that task. Gotta love a guy like that. He loved to play cards, and we spent many nights playing games like “5-1/2 and two and twenty-two”. He may have even taught us how to play, I’m not sure of that.

What I remember most about your friend was that he was a stand-up guy that had my back, as the kids say now. Whenever we were called to do a LRRP (Long Range Recon Patrol), I would only take him and one other guy (SSG. Darrell Hogan) because both were consummate GI’s that I could trust being in the bush with.

I wish I had your perspective of your dear friend, and never forget what an outstanding GI he was and what a great person he was as well. Please, tell his family, for me, how much he was loved and respected by those he left behind. I still miss him, and think of him often.

Sincerely,
Tom Hoover

PS: Thanks for the picture. Do you have any pictures of Winky just prior to him going to VN? I’m going through my stuff to see if I have any for you and Winky’s sister.

John,

I’ve thought about Winky many times over the years, and even now it is painful to revisit memories of his kindness, humor and uncommon valor. As with a lot of guys that served over there, we keep these thoughts to ourselves, probably because they were all we had that was untouched by the politics of the time.

And it was obvious to us that the country was not receptive to those that returned and the burdens we carried. It was a bad time to be a GI and scorned for doing our duty. Anyhow, even today, it is very hard to talk about issues that will and do dredge up a whole litany of the irresolvable.

But, in Winky’s case, I feel that his loved ones deserve to know what happened that day in 1968. I had just left the platoon after training my replacement, a young 2nd Lt. whose name I can’t remember. It happened in Quang Tri Province in the northern part of S. Vietnam on a mission in support of a division-sized effort. Normally, we worked independent of missions of that size, but this was a special case. We had just gone through the first Tet Offensive and the area was still in an uproar, with large contingents of North Vietnamese regulars in concert with well-organized Viet Cong, attempting to disrupt the daily life of the civilian population.

White Platoon was tasked to go into a hot LZ, riding the skids so as to get away from the choppers as quickly as possible. The choppers don’t even land in that sort of scenario; we just jump off and run for cover, so that the choppers exposure time to snipers and the like is minimized.

Generally, several choppers go in at the same time, with Gunships sweeping the wood line to provide covering fire. This day there were just too many [of the] enemy for the mini-guns and rockets to be effective. One chopper took crippling fire and burst into flame. Without considering his own safety, Winky went to the aid of the pilot(s) of the crippled chopper, and was mortally wounded while trying desperately to remove the pilots. There was talk of putting Winky in for the Congressional Medal of Honor, for heroism above and beyond the call of duty. I’ve never heard of a more selfless act than what Winky attempted and was not surprised, at all, that he stepped up to make the ultimate sacrifice. He was that kind of person, a GI’s GI.

To Winky’s family, I will tell you that your son, brother, cousin, grandparents, that Paul Paramatto will always be with us. He was and is the kind of man that each of us carries in a special place in our hearts. When you think of him, please remember those kids that he left behind and the void in all of our lives that remains to this day. I know you are proud of him, and please believe that he was and shall always be honored for the gallant young man that you love and remember. It is my honor to have known and served with such a unique young man,

God Bless each of you, and know that each of you were the most important people in his life.

My Warmest Regards,
Tom Hoover

Dear Tom,

Thank you so much for your last e-mail. I fully understand the gamut of emotions you must have felt to write down your experiences into words. But know that in doing so you have healed and will continue to heal a number of people who loved and cherished Paul. Having been a draftee myself in ‘69, I for one know full well the scorn and disrespect that was shown to the Vietnam vets, and I now take every opportunity I can to give thanks and heartfelt gratitude to everyone of these brave selfless soldiers I come to meet.

I have forwarded your tribute to Paul’s sister Florence and have asked that she send it to ALL her family members… which she has already started to do.

She has told me that she has been waiting for 37 years to speak to someone who was there with him… with your permission I will forward your e-mail address to her. She told me that she would like to personally thank you.

Many Thanks Tom,
John

Dear John,

I received your e-mail with the letters, I am still crying; I cannot believe that you found this person. I remember when Paulie died my dad requested that a soldier named Tom escort the body home and the army denied the request I am wondering if this is the same man, I really think it is because this soldier was with Paulie when he was wounded and my father wanted the person who was there to bring him home so he could talk with him.

I have chills up and down my spine; I called my daughter to tell her about these letters and she asked that I forward them to her, which I did do. John you never cease to amaze me when it comes to your love and dedication to my brother.

I would love to write to Tom, is it possible that I may have his e-mail address so I could personally thank him. I have waited over 30 years to speak to someone who was actually there with him.

Love,
Florence

Paul Paramatto’s grave at Long Island National Cemetery
I had the honor to visit my childhood friend Paul Paramatto’s grave at Long Island National Cemetery with a cousin of his from our old neighborhood in Brooklyn. May 20th was the 43rd anniversary of Paul’s heroic selfless act. John Dell'Isola: May 22, 2011