Highlights Port 5 Goodwill:
Naval Veterans Association a storied community anchor
By Mike Lauterborn
(Appeared on the front page of Fairfield Sun 5/19)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – On Saturday morning, May 28, the local chapter of the National Association of Naval Veterans (NANV) will conduct a Sea Memorial Ceremony at South Benson Marina honoring those in all branches of the military who have lost their lives at sea in the service of their country. The ceremony will also acknowledge the service of all veterans present and those currently serving. The event is but one of the many community outreach activities the chapter organizes and part of a rich history of dedication abroad and at home.
The Fairfield-Sun sat with Richard Iannucci, the Commander of the NANV’s local chapter, known as Port 5, at its headquarters at 69 Brewster Street, Bridgeport, to learn more about the association’s history, its good work and highlights of his naval career. David Russell, Fairfield’s former fire chief, Port 5’s chaplain and a key organizer of the Sea Memorial Ceremony, sat in to contribute.
A tradition of service
“The NANV is the oldest continuously serving veteran’s organization in the country, chartered in 1896,” said Iannucci, 65, a Stratford resident who retired as Master Chief of the Reserve Seabees. “It was founded by Civil War naval militia veterans. At the peak of membership, there were 22 ‘ports’ nationwide. A port is the equivalent of a Veterans of Foreign Wars’ post. Port 5 is the sole surviving port, with 500 current members, including regular members and women and men’s auxiliaries. Membership is open to all military, any branch of service, including Merchant Marines.”
Port 5 formed in 1896 in Essex, CT, relocated to Olive Street in Bridgeport in 1933 and then moved again to its current home in 1949. Port 5 supports not only veterans groups but a wide variety of other non-profits as well. “Tonight we’re going to Rocky Hill with our ladies’ auxiliary to take fishing gear to veterans at the V.A. hospital there after the staff expressed interest in taking them out fishing as part of their rehabilitation,” said Iannucci. “Last year, we took a group of about 45 blind veterans from West Haven and brought them to Port 5 for a complete lunch, entertainment and gifts.”
Over the past year, Port 5 also donated thousands of dollars to the Veteran’s Food Bank in Bridgeport, conducted a fundraiser for UConn’s Kappa Kappa Psi music fraternity and helped renovate Bridgeport’s Park City Cemetery.
On May 21, Armed Forces Day, the group will decorate the graves of military members buried at the Park City Cemetery. June 10, Port 5 will celebrate the birthday of the Army, with a ceremony and dinner. On September 17, they will host a chili cook-off for the Connecticut Burns Camp Foundation, which helps children with burns rehabilitate. At present, the ladies’ auxiliary is putting together care packages to send to two Port 5 members that are serving in Afghanistan.
Port 5 also makes its facility available as a meeting place for non-profits, which have included the Bridgeport Police Union, Marine Corps League Detachment, Sikorsky Salt Water Fishermen, Police Square Club and antique car clubs.
Leadership born in action
Iannucci’s drive and leadership skills were forged in war and honed during the balance of his 32-year term of naval service, which was spent with the Seabees, a branch of the Navy that builds bridges, roads, airfields and medical facilities.
“I entered the service in April 1968, in the early stages of the Vietnam War,” said Iannucci. “I went to boot camp in Gulfport, Mississippi, then reported to Mobile Construction Battalion 7 in Davisville, RI, the original home of the Seabees. From there, I was deployed to Dong Ha, Vietnam, for nine months, returned to Davisville for six months, then redeployed to Chu Lai, Vietnam, to go on detachments to Landing Zone Baldy, which was a forward landing zone in support of the 7th Marines.”
On June 6, 1970, while at another forward position, Fire Support Base Ross, Iannucci found himself in the thick of fighting. “The hill was manned by 200 Marines and 50 Seabees and we were attacked by some 80 North Vietnamese Army sappers, which are high-profile demolition teams,” recalled Iannucci. “Their job was to get inside the wire and blow up and disrupt whatever they could so their main force could attack. I was asleep in my hut with 12 other members when the attack started. One of the sappers opened the door and threw in three grenades. Eight out of 13 in the squad were severely wounded.”
Unharmed, Iannucci got out the front door, was able to muster people and set up a perimeter across the street to protect fuel supplies and equipment. At the same time, he shuttled his comrades to safety. “Upon hearing cries for help from wounded shipmates, I left the security of our lines under small arms and mortar attack, rescued seven of the eight wounded in my squad and carried them to a MedEvac chopper,” Iannucci related.
The young Seabee didn’t stop there. “I moved to a forward bunker littered with dead Marines and the enemy, and used a handheld radio to direct fire support to stop the oncoming assault,” he said. “The support came from 155mm Howitzers on a sister hill and it stopped the attack on that section. For those actions, I was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest award a naval person can receive for valor in combat.”
Though released from active duty in 1970, Iannucci returned to Seabees service in 1978, working his way up the chain of command from Chief Petty Officer to Command Master Chief, ultimately retiring in 1994.
Salt of the earth
Russell, 84, a Port 5 member since 1948 and a Southport resident, had his own service tales to tell, though his post-war achievements far outshine his naval record. “I joined the U.S. Navy in Nov. 1944, on my 17th birthday,” he said. “As eager as I was to serve my country, I had discovered girls and was a little reluctant to go. Three schoolmates a year ahead of me had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge and my father’s strong urging put me into the Navy, which was the greatest thing that happened in my life.”
Russell’s path led from recruit training outside Syracuse, NY, to sub chaser’s school in Miami, FL, where he was a sailor training on a 136-foot control craft. “We operated on the Atlantic and were all set on Nov. 5, 1945 to be part of the invasion of Japan when Harry Truman dropped the atomic bomb, which is why I never made admiral,” he joked.
As a yeoman’s striker, Russell was released in July 1946. In 1953, he became a firefighter in Southport, rose to lieutenant in 1958, captain in 1962 and Chief of the Fairfield Fire Dept. in 1976, retiring ultimately in 1990.
As Port 5’s long-time chaplain, Russell has attended every member’s funeral, presides over monthly meetings, makes hospital visits to all sick members, volunteers weekly at St. Vincent’s Hospital and serves on the Fairfield Memorial Day Parade Committee.
Both men cite their naval training and experiences as key preparation for the roles they assumed in civilian life.
Sea Memorial Ceremony a Look at American History
One of the most moving events of Memorial Day Weekend will be the Sea Memorial Ceremony, which gets under way Saturday, May 28, at 9:30 a.m. at Fairfield’s South Benson Marina. Sponsored by the Fairfield Memorial Day Parade Committee and coordinated by WWII Navy veteran David Russell, the ceremony honors past and present servicemen in all branches of the military.
The day begins with a flag raising ceremony held at the entrance to the marina, followed by the main sea memorial ceremony at 10 a.m. at the Gas Dock area. A boat flotilla, led by Captains Larry Coyle and Sandye Mann, will then place a memorial wreath on Long Island Sound. Members of Fairfield Ludlowe High School’s a cappella chorale group will participate, as will members of the Gaelic American Bagpipe group, which will escort veterans from the flag pole to the ceremony area. Boy Scouts from Troop #82 at First Church Congregational will serve as the color guard of the day, along with veterans from the various veterans’ organizations in town and the area. Captain Roger Crossland, USNR (Ret.) will serve as Officer of the Day while Master Chief Builder Richard Iannucci, USNR (Ret.) will act as Chief Petty Officer of the Day.
All persons that wish to honor servicemen are invited to attend as well as active duty members of all branches of the military, in service dress with indications of their veteran status. Light refreshments will be available at the Gas Dock area and, following the ceremony, Port 5 National Association of Naval Veterans will be hosting a reception and luncheon at their clubhouse at 69 Brewster Street, Bridgeport.