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Howland veteran served in Korea

Submitted photo Gino Camelli taken in August 1961, during basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

HOWLAND — Gino Camelli planned to be a career military man, but he listened to his mother and ended up leaving the military before he likely would have been sent to Vietnam.

Camelli, 80, said he attended the U.S. Naval Reserve Training Center on LaClede Avenue on Youngstown’s South Side from 1960 to 1961 once per week during his senior year of high school. He graduated from East High School in May 1961 and joined the Army that August.

“I planned to do 25 years in the Army,” Camelli reminisced recently as he flipped through old photos from his military days.

He went to basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and although basic training usually lasts eight weeks, his was cut short by two weeks because the Berlin Crisis of 1961 was heating up. The Berlin Crisis occurred between June and November 1961, and was the last major European politico-military incident of the Cold War about the occupational status of Berlin, and of post-World War II Germany, according to militaryhistory.com.

“My unit was shipped out to Fort Riley, Kansas, for advanced infantry training for two weeks because we were on alert with tensions rising in Berlin,” Camelli said.

During that two-week training, he became an expert in the 4.2-inch mortar. He was the gunner.

“I was quick at firing because I used to be an amateur boxer,” Camelli said.

After the infantry training was finished, the soldiers were taken to an auditorium to fill out paperwork, where they were able to choose their military assignment. He said he chose Korea and spent a little more than a year there, from late 1961 to early 1963.

“The war was over, but we still got harassed by the North Korean soldiers,” Camelli said.

He said one night around 9 p.m. while on guard duty at the ammunition station, he could see a Korean soldier coming up the hill toward him. He pointed his rifle at him and yelled “stop” three times in Korean, but the soldier kept coming.

“I pulled the trigger, but I was aiming at angle, so the shot went over his head. It was a blank round because they didn’t give us live ammunition while on guard duty. That guy ran away real fast, and I bet he never tried doing that again,” Camelli said.

After Korea, he was stationed at Ford Ord, Calif., where he spent 18 months before being honorably discharged on May 14, 1964. Because he was listed as a career military man, he had his choice of where to go for his next three years of enlistment. He chose Hawaii.

“I was there for seven months, and I volunteered to go to Vietnam as a gunner, but the Army rejected me for some reason. Maybe they thought I was too young,” Camelli said.

One day while in Hawaii, his commander called him into the office and said his parents needed money because they were both out of work. The commander was notified by the American Red Cross, and the notification earned him a two-week leave. Camelli flew from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii to Travis Air Force Base in California to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

“I bought my parents groceries and got them back on their feet and planned to return to Hawaii, but my mother and my aunt cried because they knew I would be sent to Vietnam. My older brother, Joseph, was wounded in Korea, and my mother told me she didn’t want that to happen to me,” Camelli said.

He received a hardship discharge on May 31, 1967.

“If my mom hadn’t made such a fuss, I would have stayed in the Army. I loved the Army. I would have made it a career,” Camelli said. “I liked the travel, and I met a lot of phenomenal people.”

He lives in a condominium in Howland with his white Persian cat, Sophia, who he said helped him through the grief of recently losing his wife, Vivi, and daughter, Gina.

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