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Niles man dedicates life to helping fellow veterans

Staff photo / Nathanael Hawthorne Robert Marino Sr. stands in the hall of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 11 building in Warren. Marino spent a large portion of his life in the military and has been an advocate for veterans since his retirement in 2004.

NILES — Although he served in the military for 38 years, Robert Marino Sr. said he believes his greatest contribution to service came after his time in the armed forces.

Marino enlisted in the Army in 1963 and from then on, a large portion of his life was dedicated to the military. From the Army, he went to the Army Reserve, then to the Air Force Reserve, then to the Ohio National Guard and then back to the Air Force Reserve when the Youngstown Air Reserve Station got C-130 planes to be a load master. That is where he finished his time in the military after 38 years, five months and 21 days.

“I was a clerk typist at first, and I hated that,” Marino said.

After he got out of the Army, his brother, Frank, convinced him to join the Air Force Reserve where he did his time and then got a break. The break didn’t last too long before his brother once again convinced him to join the National Guard.

“When they got the C-130s at the airbase, I transferred there and became a load master before retiring in 2004,” Marino said.

He never was in combat, but was in combat zones frequently. Some of the places he was stationed include Sarajevo, the Persian Gulf and El Salvador during a civil war.

While serving for so long, Marino crossed the globe close to three times, and he said he believes he was very fortunate for being able to see the world. He also credits the military for molding him into the man he is today.

“I can honestly say if I didn’t join the service when I did, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It helped me grow up to be a man at that age,” Marino said. “I liked the Army the best because there was really a lot of camaraderie, and my heart will always be with the Army. I did have a good time in the military. You weigh everything out and the good outweighed the bad.”

In 1985, Marino got his son to enlist in the Air Force Reserve. The two eventually served together, and Marino said that is one of his fondest memories from his time in the service, even though it may not be entirely legal.

“For some reason, he was on the plane with me on the way to Germany, and you’re not allowed to do that. You can’t have relatives on the same plane,” Marino said. “I was reading a book, and I looked up and across to my son and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m getting old’,” he said.

For Marino, being able to see his son follow in his footsteps brought him a great sense of pride.

Once he retired, he stayed active and became a true advocate for veteran affairs.

In 2005-06, Marino joined the American Legion and got involved among various other organizations, although now he primarily spends time with the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 11 in Warren, where he has been involved for just more than eight years. The DAV in Warren is the only one of its kind in Trumbull County.

Additionally, Marino also participates in the American Legion Buckeye Boys State.

This organization is an eight-day program that allows juniors in high school to experience government and how everything works. Marino said the event has roughly 1,200 young men attend annually.

After partnering with Howland veteran Ken David, the pair were able to really promote veterans in any way they could. One of those ways was by helping rename bridges throughout the county in honor of veterans.

The idea of renaming bridges comes from when Marino was driving and saw a bridge that was honoring veterans.

“I thought, ‘We gotta do something,’ and that’s where I got the idea for the Veterans Memorial bridge in Niles. Then, like a snowball effect, more and more bridges in the county were getting named,” Marino said. “I’m honored by doing it, but when we talk about dedicating bridges, it’s not a one-man job.”

The first bridge Marino worked on was Veteran’s Memorial Bridge in Niles. Then David and Marino got together and worked on the Persian Gulf War Bridge and the Afghanistan-Iraq War Bridge in Niles. They then did the Korean War Veterans Bridge in Niles, the Vietnam Veterans Bridge in Howland and the Women’s Veterans Bridge in Warren, the first bridge in Ohio to honor women veterans. Then the duo helped with the Bruce Jones Memorial Bridge in Niles. Jones was the first Ohioan to have his name put on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

“The one that’s really sentimental to me is the Virginia “Ginny” Kirsch Memorial Highway in Brookfield. She was a Red Cross volunteer who got murdered in Vietnam and was the only Red Cross volunteer from Ohio who got killed in Vietnam,” Marino said.

In total, Marino has lent a helping hand to get 10 bridges renamed to honor veterans and has his sights set on two more in Hubbard and Girard. The Girard bridge would honor World War I and World War II veterans, and Marino said he is hopeful the renaming will happen soon.

“It’s an honor to me because all these bridges that were named, I felt, were honoring veterans,” Marino said. “They deserve it and they’ve earned it.”

Whether it’s a bridge renaming or seeing flags displayed proudly over highways, Marino said seeing such displays of patriotism brings a sense of pride.

“To me, it’s pride in people that’s willing to do that for our country and veterans,” he said.

Marino’s veteran involvement doesn’t stop at bridge renaming. He, along with a few others, sometimes participate in military funerals when needed.

For Marino, helping veterans isn’t something he likes to brag or boast about. He doesn’t keep track of the people he’s assisted or anything like that.

“Keeping track was never important to me. It was important that I did it and I helped them,” Marino said.

Marino said he would not be the person he is today without the support from his wife, Sherry, who was his high school sweetheart.

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