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Area vets recognized

AUSTINTOWN — The bookends for staff Sgt. Joseph R. Calabria’s long military career are entering airborne school at Fort Bragg, N.C., at 16 to begin fulfilling a deep desire to serve his country, and at 81 receiving the latest award for having done so.

“You have no idea; from the bottom of my heart, I thank all these people. I’m so honored it’s unbelievable,” Calabria, a decorated Marine Corps and Vietnam War veteran, said.

Calabria, who also is the recipient of three Purple Hearts, was reacting to having received a Silver Star Award during Saturday’s 21st annual Ohio Military Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Quaker Steak & Lube, 5800 Patriot Blvd. He was awarded for gallantry and bravery while in Vietnam.

Also honored for his service was Navy and Army veteran James E. Smith, who also is 81, of Ashtabula, who was given a Distinguished Flying Cross.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, presented the awards.

“You make the ultimate service for laying your life on the line for other people,” Ryan said. “Their sacrifices are inspiring for all of us.”

Coordinating the one-hour program were Leo H. Connolly Jr., who was inducted in 2011 into the Military Hall of Fame for valor, and Ken Jakubec of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, who also acted as the event’s master of ceremonies.

Calabria, of Austintown, entered the military in 1956. He served as an engineer equipment foreman with the 11th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Marine Division.

While in Vietnam, his responsibilities included clearing fields of fire near Marine positions at Con Thien in Quang Tri Province. He had two tours of duty.

On May 8, 1967, two battalions of Vietnamese soldiers launched a night attack on Con Thien, which resulted in numerous casualties, before a reaction force countered the enemy assault. After discovering a bunker that enemy forces were using, Calabria singlehandedly assaulted it with hand grenades, killing six Vietnamese soldiers, and despite the grave danger, continued the action until recapturing the position.

In addition, Calabria risked his life by moving to a disabled tank to retrieve needed ammunition and distribute it to the other Marines.

Before retiring in 1973, he spent time at Bethesda Naval Hospital (now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) and in Guam receiving rehabilitation therapies after having suffered spinal and other injuries.

Beginning in July 1963, Smith served two years in the Navy, then 18 in the Army, which included a one-year tour of duty from October 1967 to October 1968 in Vietnam with Troop A, 7th Armored Squadron, 17th Air Cavalry.

On Feb. 24, 1968, while piloting a light-observation helicopter, Smith hovered over the area where another helicopter crashed after having come under heavy enemy fire in Vietnam’s Kon Tum Province. He also flew over hostile territory to mark enemy positions, which allowed armed helicopters to make accurate assaults on the area.

In addition, Smith provided close fire support to protect the downed crew and maneuver a rifle platoon through a network of enemy bunkers, each of which he marked with smoke, before an infantry commander assaulted the complex. His decisions contributed to the rescue of the downed crew.

After his time in Vietnam, Smith, who graduated in 1963 from Youngstown College with a degree in retail management, became a helicopter gunnery instructor at Fort Rucker, Ala., he recalled. He said he’s grateful to have received his award.

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