Although Veterans Day honors the living, anytime is appropriate to honor the memory of a courageous local hero, John T. Frisina, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps.
I learned of him from my Benedictine High School classmate Russ Davis, a member of the undefeated Bengal football team and “mythical” Ohio Champion of 1964.
While visiting Little Italy for Columbus Day festivities we stopped at a local pub, Borgata Bar, owned by John’s brother Tom. It’s not a place where the tables are set with white tablecloths but an authentic neighborhood gathering place for locals, those who come back to visit the neighborhood they grew up in…and visitors to one of Cleveland’s ethnic enclaves, “Little Italy.” This is where I learned about John and the Frisina family.
They are all proud of their Sicilian roots, as all the Italian-Americans I have ever known are.
Their paternal grandparents, Giovanni and Rosa, came here through Ellis Island from Borgetto, near Palermo, and initially settled in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Eventually they relocated to Cleveland where John and his siblings, Rose, Sam, Tom and Michael, were raised by their parents, Sam and Marie, in Little Italy and later in Willoughby.
That day we went in for a visit and I met brother Tom, the Proprietor. He took down a frame of John’s decorations from his service years that displayed his Silver Star, Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars with V for valor. Tom is rightly proud of his older brother who left home when he himself was too young for college and military service. A graduate of Mount Union College, John enlisted in Marine Corps afterwards. Recognizing his special talents, he was assigned to the Pentagon’s War College where he learned the Vietnamese language. Afterwards he was assigned to Vietnam where he fought in the TET offensive.
He and a fellow Vietnamese Officer led their company in an assault to drive the enemy from its built-up section. According to the citation he “repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to observe and direct U.S. helicopter gunships.” Additionally, he directed American armor against their strongpoints. He was knocked unconscious from an explosion but refused medical aid when he recovered and resumed directing gunship and tank fire upon the enemy. For his courage he was awarded the nation’s second highest decoration, the Silver Star.
When he passed, he left behind his life partner Barbara Iacobucci, his forementioned sister and brothers and many nieces and nephews. After a Mass of Christian Burial in Collinwood’s Holy Redeemer Catholic Church he was laid to rest with full military honors in Lake View Cemetery.
I am sorry I never met the Hero.