Al, Louie and Me
As I mentioned in my memoir "Vietnam: There and Back - A Combat Medic's Chronicle", I met Al Torsiello from Union, NJ as soon as I departed from a helicopter and got on the jungle floor west of Chu Lai, Vietnam in February 1968. I introduced myself as the new medic for the second platoon and after joking with Al that my birthplace Oshkosh, WI was actually a city as opposed to part of an East Coast mythology, I was introduced to the rest of the guys in the platoon.
Many of the guys in Charlie Company had trained together in Ft. Hood, TX and I learned recently from fellow soldier Ed McCracken travelled by ship on the USS Upshur and arrived in Chu Lai in October of 1967. So by the time I had joined them in February 1968, they had been battle tested including a very vicious firefight which killed the second platoon medic Walter Pratt whom I was replacing.
Al introduced me to Eugene "the Bean" Lynch an extremely powerfully built Irishman from Brooklyn, NY and I knew in a short time having been raised in a small town in Oshkosh that I had never encountered a guy like him before. He exuded personality and was a complete character, and like Al Torsiello, we became great friends.
One of the people I met next was another guy from Brooklyn and he was a blonde headed Italian named Louie Panteleone. There had to have been something in the water in Brooklyn back in those days because that area produced a lot of characters and Louie Panteleone was another one. He was really a likeable guy with a great sense of humor and quite a storyteller. He would "hold court" and entertain the guys with stories all the time and they always started off with "in my neighborhood we used to" . . . and then he'd tell a story about something he used to do, or someone he knew, or something that happened back on his block in the 60's. And he was full of stories. Those of us who listened, and I was always in that group that was captivated by Louie's stories, we were always entertained. He had some of us convinced that his neighborhood was unlike any other in New York.
Some of the guys may challenge Louie on a story telling him it was BS if they felt he was pushing the boundaries too far, and Louie would then glare at them with his blue eyes and say "it's the truth" and then add more details as if to say "so there". Louie would then turn away victorious and engage someone else, eat his C rations or clean his weapon. I rarely saw him take a backseat to anyone with the storytelling.
Our company and the second platoon was involved in a lot of combat, more than I want to remember these days, but Louie was someone you could always count on in a firefight and that was true with almost all of the guys. He was one of the experienced combat soldiers and one of the guys you wanted around you in combat or protecting your back.
One day in June 1968, Louie became detached from us after we were ambushed, and once the dust settled, and he reconnected with us, he told us he had ducked into a hole and heard the North Vietnamese soldiers talking and he saw their legs as they walked by where he was hiding. Louie said he felt as if he stopped breathing because he needed to remain so quiet given the danger he found himself in isolated from the rest of us. Louie Al and me and eleven or so other guys, all of us who were left that day, dug two man holes and formed a perimeter. We were convinced we'd be overrun that night because of our low numbers. Fortunately, that never happened, but it was a fear filled, dark night when minutes felt like hours waiting for daylight.
One of Louie's quirks, was he knew military nomenclature better than anyone I met. He could provide military descriptions for every piece of ammunition we used in Vietnam, all of the rifles and pistols, grenades and grenade launchers, army personnel carriers and tanks. Its almost as if he memorized all of this stuff that the rest of us didn't have a clue about nor did we care about it. But Louie knew it and was never challenged about military nomenclature. After all, why would anybody want to know about this stuff? Louie never told us why - he just knew it.
Louie Panteleone survived the war and left Vietnam in October 1968 and returned to his neighborhood in Brooklyn. He told us he couldn't wait to get out of the army and the military structure, so what did he do? He became a New York Transit cop, a profession as structured as you can find.
In 1973, I visited New York city with a couple friends from Oshkosh and hooked up with Al Torsiello, Eugene "the Bean" Lynch and Louie Panteleone and spent some fun times with them. It was great to see the guys in a non-military setting. On one of my visits there, Al Torsiello and I visited Louie in his neighborhood and had a few beers in a local tavern with him, and after leaving it, Al and I were baffled how so many stories could have been generated from it. But it was a Louie "thing".
It wasn't too many years later when I learned Louie had been working patrolling a train station, as he was a transit cop, and somebody came off a train, armed with the intent to kill a cop - any cop - and Louie was shot. He hadn't been wounded to my knowledge in Vietnam and here he was in a New York city subway train station and he got shot. He survived those wounds and received a medical retirement from the NY Police Department at a young age.
I saw Louie once more on a return visit to Union New Jersey at Al Torsiello's house and someone, likely Al's wife Francine took a picture of us. I saved it in my computer and captioned it Al, Louie and Me. I'll link it at the end of this tribute. It was great to see him and Louie entertained Al's house guests with a Vietnam War slide presentation, involving what else - military nomenclature. And he hadn't missed a trick.
About ten years ago, in 2012, Al Torsiello and I, with the help of Ricki E. Bellos composed ten songs about our experiences in Vietnam and we titled the CD "Vietnam" There and Back". One of the songs mentioned David Provost who was killed in Vietnam, Gene Lynch and Louie Panteleone as three men you could count on in a fight. There were several others; but, we mentioned them prominently because we knew them so well and wanted to honor them. Louie's son, Marc Panteleone ordered a CD and we started an email relationship.
In September 2022, I got an email from Marc Panteleone informing me his father had stage four cancer and he didn't have long to live. I asked how I could reach him and Marc provided me the number. I called it several times over different days and the phone would just ring. I conveyed that to Marc and he said "call the number in a half hour because I'll be there" and I did. Louie's wife Linda answered and I identified myself and said I'd like to speak with Louie.
Louie came to the phone and answered with the same Brooklyn accent that I remembered from the 1970's and he told me he was taking a lot of drugs for the pain. At first, he didn't remember me, but after I reminded him of a few things, his speech suddenly brightened up and he said "now I remember you - you were one of the good guys". We had a nice twenty minute chat about the old days and it was very meaningful for both of us war buddies to reconnect. He said he had lived a good life and had raised great kids and he was so proud of the fact that his kids had good jobs and were living productive lives. He also said he was at peace. I told him I'd call again, but the next email I received from his son Marc said Louie was in his final hours.
I immediately went to my computer and located the picture captioned Al, Louie and Me and I sent it by email to Marc together with an mp3 of a song I wrote featuring Rob Anthony titled "A Little Happiness" a song about life post Vietnam. I told Marc to tell
Louie the guys love him and Marc told me Louie loved seeing the picture (he's on the right and Al is in the center) and loved the song.
On October 2, 2022, I got an email from Marc stating his dad had passed away the day before. I texted the sad news to Al Torsiello and we both felt like we had lost a brother. War creates very strong bonds among combat soldiers and it lasts a lifetime. It has with Al, and it did for Eugene Lynch and Louie Panteleone as well. He will be missed.
The song I wrote can be accessed here: www.soundcloud.com/jim-purtell/a-little-happiness