He was a Soldier once….
by Cate Murway
“Poor is the nation that has no heroes.
Shameful is the nation that having them forgets.”
Often times the thing they never heard was 'Thank you for your service'. Not many heard that when they came back.
The Vietnam War was a prolonged, antagonizing struggle lasting from 1959 -1975 since there had been fighting in Vietnam for decades before the Vietnam War actually began. The USA, along with the aid of the South Vietnamese had initially attempted to help prevent the spread of communism. President Lyndon Baines Johnson [1908-1973] escalated American involvement when he ordered the first U.S. ground troops to Vietnam in March 1965 after the North Vietnamese fired directly upon two U.S. ships in international waters in early August 1964, known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.
President Johnson’s goal for the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was not to win the war, but for our troops to bolster South Vietnam's defenses until they could take over. Without a goal to win, the stage was set for disappointment when the U.S. found themselves in a stalemate with the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong.
It was a jungle war, mostly against the well-supplied Viet Cong who hid in the dense brush. US forces dropped Agent Orange or napalm bombs, large amounts of mixtures known as defoliants, to clear an area by causing the leaves to drop off or to burn away.
The enemy was stronger and better organized than our troops had been led to believe.
When Richard Milhous Nixon [1913-1994] became the new President in 1969, he had his own plan to end the U.S. involvement and the withdrawal of the troops began in July, although he had initially escalated our involvement and expanded the war into other countries, such as Laos and Cambodia, a move that created a myriad of protests, especially on college campuses.
More than any U.S. war since the Civil War, Vietnam divided America.
On July 2, 1976, Vietnam was reunited as a communist country, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Army Spec4 William Henry Fioravanti, BHS ’63 came home from Vietnam after serving for 11months and 22 days with battle scars much like those carried by any veteran returning home from war.
He shared especially painful memories in An Khe, Vietnam as the Switchboard operator.
“Calls were coming through my board asking for 250 body bags and several hours later, they asked for another 250.”
The men’s bodies were just piled up. They were landing under mortar fire and many men died.
They worked eighteen hours a day, seven days a week and their families were halfway around the world.
Life had been so simple. As a youth, Bill, named for his maternal grandfather, William Arbuthnot, enjoyed street play, playing in the alleys and shooting marbles. His parents, USMC veteran, Louis Peter, Sr. and Sarah [Arbuthnot] Fioravanti had four children including Bill. His older siblings, Elizabeth Veronica “Betty” [Senator Joseph R. Grundy would “make a big fuss about my sister” when she was a little girl], and Army veteran Louis, who was employed by Jack Wichser Roofing & Painting, are deceased. He has fond memories of archery practice with his younger brother, Robert Joseph. Lou Favata taught them both to shoot a bow and arrow in vacant fields where the Lower Bucks Hospital now stands.
“Listening to the radio gave you an imagination.” He recalls hearing Navy/ Coast Guard veteran, Arthur Morton Godfrey [1903-1983], the American radio and television broadcaster and entertainer with the relaxed, informal style, nicknamed “The Old Redhead”. Another favorite program was the radio comedy series, Fibber McGee and Molly.
His dad worked for the Hunter- Wilson Distilling, Co., Inc.; the Riley Stoker Corporation, a Worchester, MA based manufacturer of industrial boilers, and the Badenhausen Boiler Company, a manufacture of all-steel water tube super boilers. He never owned a car and never drove.
Bill’s first car was a ’58 green Buick he purchased from Reedman’s for $900.00 in 1963. He taught himself to drive on the way home. “There wasn’t a lot of traffic back then.”
“We were real poor. We didn’t have much. I had two pairs of pants and one pair of shoes. My mom was very sickly.” She packed tea in the National Tea Packing Company located in the Grundy Industrial Complex and worked in men’s clothing sales at Marty Green’s and Spector’s on Mill Street. “Ban-Lon shirts were $1.00 then.”
Bill delivered the Bristol Daily Courier in the mid-50’s and earned $.05 for each paper he delivered, helped people load their groceries into their cars for tips, and earned $.50 dismantling “Fat Jerry’s” tent at the St. Michael’s Fair; anything to make pocket money.
But he remembers that his mom made a mean pea soup, great meatloaf and “a good rice pudding.”
“Keystone Dairy kept their horse in a barn on Lafayette. We had a ragman and garbage trucks came and picked up your slop to take it to pig farms. When we did something wrong, they went to our mom and dad first. We respected authority. The people in Bristol were so good. Everyone said “yes, m’am, no m’am”.
Inaugural member of BHS class of 1988 Hall of Fame, James Marvin Sottile, Sr., BHS ’49 lived next door to the Fioravanti family and he was Bill’s role model. “I looked up to him. His whole family was so good.”
Jim Sottile is homebound, currently recuperating from an appendectomy. “I remember Bill and his family from Lafayette Street. He came to every game!”
Bill proudly wore #43 and excelled in Varsity basketball and in track, running the 440 and the ½ mile. “I remember, ‘go fast, then open up your stride’”.
He recalls Anthony “Chic” DeAngelo as the ‘best guy ever, personality and coaching’.
Bill’s Uncle Hughie was a manager in the Newportville Road A&P and he helped Bill secure a job in the Pond Street location after high school. He worked there until he was drafted into the service on July 29, 1964, on his sister’s birthday. He returned to work at the grocery for awhile after Vietnam. Bill retired in 2003 after working as a diesel mechanic for the Penn Central RR for 33 ½ years in the Morrisville location.
His Army stint began in Fort Gordon, GA where he underwent an 8-week basic training, making the transition from civilian life to military life, before being assigned to Fort Bragg, NC for 9 months.
“Just as the weapons of modern warfare are being constantly improved, so is the army’s most potent weapon, the individual soldier.”
1st Lieutenants, QMC Charles C. Bagwell, Jr. and Dennis G. Denelle sent him letters of appreciation for his numerous off-duty contributions, fulfilling both internal and external requirements in his outstanding manner. Both letters noted that it was a direct reflection of his character.
A 3 ½ day cross country train trek took him to San Francisco where his next stop would be Vietnam.
Then it was off to the real basic training.
Opposition to American involvement in that war had grown steadily during the second half of the 1960’s.
They were met by protestors who were throwing stones.
“We didn’t understand. We were just told. The pride of the U.S. soldier is to go and do what your country asks. We just followed what we were told to do.”
The redesignated USNS General W. H. Gordon made numerous voyages between the U.S. West Coast and Southeast Asia, transporting the soldiers to the Pacific to support the expanding Vietnam War.
An estimated 2.7 million men and women served in Vietnam.
His treasures now are his daughter, Debra Ann and his two granddaughters, Kalie and Casey.
He lives in the family home built in 1879 and originally purchased by his grandparents, Pio and Elizabeta Fioravanti in 1912.
War’s corrosive effect changes a man. Bill was a soldier, a field wireman, willing and ready to serve our country. Nearly four decades have passed since the end of the Vietnam War. He is out of the Army’s sight now and keeps to himself. He still meets with his buddies and fishes down behind the bank. He also keeps things safe for the seniors as he runs the St. Ann Church elevator.
No more “B” rations. His favorite food now is fresh hamburger and he thinks “Angelo’s are pretty good!”
William Henry Fioravanti is glad to be home.
He doesn’t downplay the devastation. The telling, it turns out, is important.
Recommend a “Spotlight”. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
from notes on facebook:
I have known Bill all my life, I've fished with him behind the bank at "Catfish Ridge"....and I can say there isn't a kinder or more respectful man on this planet...someone who would do anything for a friend...I never knew the horrors of war that he experienced...I'm honored to call him my friend.... John Chic D'Angelo
I love your Dad--never met a kinder, gentler man... Nancy Smith Sanders-Ditto
What a great article. I actually got teary eyed. Kristin Weinkopff
Posted: Friday, November 8, 2013 4:00 am
Dorothy M. Arbuthnot passed away on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 at Lower Bucks Hospital.
Born in Bristol, daughter of the late William and Margaret (Crossan) Arbuthnot, she was a Bristol Borough resident, living on Swain Street, most of her life.
Ms. Arbuthnot retired in 1986 after 36 years of service at the 3M Company. She enjoyed bingo, going to the casinos in Atlantic City, but most especially enjoyed spending time with her family.
She is survived by one sister, Ann Louderbough and (George); one brother, Hugh Arbothnot (Marianne); along with 11 nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by two sisters, Sarah Fioravanti and Verna Marshall; and four brothers, William, Robert, John and Joseph Arbuthnot.
Relatives and friends are invited to attend her Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 11, at St. Mark Church, Bristol Borough. Interment in Our Lady of Grace Cemetery. Friends may call from 9 to 10:50 a.m., Monday morning at the Wade Funeral Home, 1002 Radcliffe Street, Bristol Borough. Wade Funeral Home Bristol