Veterans of Bucks County

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bob Staranowicz

Bob Staranowicz, a 14-year resident of Doylestown, (above) authored a book and co-authored a play about the experiences he and others had while serving in the Vietnam War. During his time in Vietnam, it was the children at the Kim Long orphanage (below) along the Perfume River that stuck with him the most. He and other soldiers would often bring the candy and toys they got from home to the children.

Doylestown Patriot contributor was
drafted for the Vietnam War in 1968.

By Janine Logue Editor

It was the first time Bob Staranowicz had ever flown in an airplane. The year was 1968, he was 21 years old and headed off to Vietnam.

Staranowicz, a Doylestown resident for the last 14 years, graduated from Northeast Catholic High School in 1966 and went to work for Sears Roebuck. By 1967 he had completed training at a computer school and was working for the Sears data processing department.

By 1968, he had been drafted.

Staranowicz decided to join the Army, and in August 1968 he started basic training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and then transferred to the Fort Monmouth New Jersey Electronics School.

“Since it was so close to home, I was fortunate that I made it home every weekend but one for the 11 months I was there,” said Staranowicz.

It was just 30 days after completing his training that Staranowicz got on to that first flight.

“I went to Vietnam with a friend I had met in basic, and on the way over we landed in Tokyo and the plane was disabled,” said Staranowicz. “We were all sent to a hotel until the plane was repaired. Joe and I decided to visit a local bar and after several Sapporos, we almost missed the plane. It was on the tarmac ready to leave when we arrived by cab.”

When Staranowicz finally made it to Vietnam, he arrived at the Army’s Long Bihn Post, where he received orders for the 101st Airborne Division, HQ - 501st Signal Group.

“Most of my friends except for a few were stationed in the Saigon area. I went to Camp Eagle which was near the Imperial City of Hue,” said Staranowicz.

Staranowicz and the other members of his division were charged with installing communications equipment via helicopter to firebases and base camps in the 101st AO (Area of Operation).

“This included sites near DMZ and Ashau Valley and Quang Tri. The most remote site I can remember is Camp Carroll, along Highway 9, between the Dong Ha and the Laotian border,” said Staranowicz.

DMZ refers to a demilitarized zone, a combat-free area between two enemies. The DMZ in Vietnam, which was created by an agreement known as the Geneva Accords, ran parallel to Highway 9 and marked the boarder between North and South Vietnam.

“The most memorable time of my service in Vietnam was not the military portion, but the time spent visiting a local orphanage in Kim Long, a poor area of Huê, Vietnam, along the Perfume River,” said Staranowicz. “We would take our laundry to this place run by French nuns. We always took candy or toys sent from home and the children always appreciated anything that we would give them. A nurse friend of mine who was stationed in nearby Phu Bai went back to Vietnam in 1999 and visited the orphanage that is still there today.”

Staranowicz came home from Vietnam with a rank of Specialist 5 (E-5), a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation medal.

“I returned to the states with 10 months left to serve in October 1970,” said Staranowicz. “In November of 1970, I married the girl — Mary Anne — I met before I had left for Vietnam. We packed up the car a week later and left for Fort Huachucha, Arizona — a four and a half day drive.”

Staranowicz left the Army on Friday, Aug. 13, 1971 and returned to work at Sears.
Since leaving the Army, Staranowicz has worked for AT&T, received a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from LaSalle University and become an accomplished writer.

Currently, Staranowicz works for IBM and writes a column for the Bucks InterCounty Newspaper Group, including the Doylestown Patriot.

Staranowicz authored a book entitled “Chapter One - The Story of Vic Charles,” which tells the story of a soldier who served in Vietnam.

“The character experiences some true and some fictionalized stories of my and other friend’s experiences in Vietnam and the results of those experiences on his personal life 20 years later,” said Staranowicz.

Other works by Staranowicz include a small collection of poems dedicated to Charles Glenn III, a friend of his who was killed in Vietnam and a play, which he co-authored, about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

The play is entitled “Etchings - The Stories Behind the Wall,” and is available to any school interested in using it in their curriculum. It has already been performed at Fayetteville State University and various high schools in North Carolina.

For more information about the play, you can contact Bob Staranowicz at

The poems can be found at

Staranowicz is married with two daughters. He is a member of VFW Post 175 and VVA Post 210.
To this day, Vietnam remains a big part of Staranowicz’s life.

“I am considering a trip back to Vietnam to visit where I had served,” said Staranowicz. “I know that the orphanage is still there and I have been told that Camp Eagle still exists. I also would like to visit Saigon where IBM has an office and where I have developed relationships with several of the employees there.”

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

John Farruggio

In the jungle of North Vietnam, you had
to fight the enemy and the elements.

By Peter Ciferri Editor

"You can have all the training in the world in basic training, but nothing prepares you for your first combat.”

Newtown native John Farruggio got that cold realization his first week in Vietnam, when his Army 4th Infantry Division found themselves pinned down by heavy fire in the central highlands of North Vietnam.

When Farruggio and his men came across a North Vietnamese battalion in the mountainous triple canopy jungle terrain, the 4th Infantry found themselves split up and struggling to survive. Farruggio says one of the four platoons in his company was “annihilated,” taking their troops from 48 to four men in a single battle. They were forever known as the “lost platoon” of Vietnam.

Farruggio never thought he’d see that kind of fighting, let alone step foot in Asia when he was growing up on State Street in Newtown. A 1966 Council Rock High School graduate and first-year student at then fledgling Bucks County Community College (BCCC), Farruggio was just like any other teenager. He split his time between taking classes as BCCC and working for his father’s trucking company and spending time at Newtown Theatre, which his family also owned.

That all changed, however, when in late 1966, Farruggio was drafted into the Army to be trained and sent to Vietnam by May 1, 1967.

“Nothing prepares you for the jungle itself,” Farruggio remembered. During a year in the central highlands, the infantryman said he was constantly bombarded by natural elements: constant monsoon rain, centipedes, mosquitoes infected with malaria, red ants and jungle rot. “The war wasn’t so much fighting the North Vietnamese Army as it was putting up with the elements of the jungle. Eighty percent of my company came down with malaria.”

Every night the 4th Infantry would circle the wagons, creating a circle of foxholes surrounded by trip wired flares and other booby-traps that served at the first line of defense to alert the men of incoming troops. During the days, Farruggio was on search and destroy missions, walking between three and seven miles each day with an 85-pound rucksack on his back. The group was only given rations every three days and were often awake for nearly as long.

“The camaraderie was great with the initial guys,” Farruggio said, describing his platoon as a fraternity. While traveling through four search and destroy operations in the Iron Triangle, the platoon acquired a mascot in a monkey named Georgie-Girl and once came upon a pack of marauding orangutans they initially mistook for an ambush.

And there was also the fighting. Following that first brutal week in the highlands, Farruggio was awarded the infantry “Baptism under fire” badge. “If you see that on an infantryman, you don’t even have to question that he was in combat,” he said. “A lot of people think that everybody who goes to war zones rights. That’s not the case.”

A few months later, Farruggio found himself in one of Vietnam’s bloodiest battles: Dak To — a 17-day battle along the Cambodian border in which 3,000 North Vietnamese were killed.

“The mission was horrific,” Farruggio explained. “Jet air strikes into the mountains, gun ships firing. It took three or four days just to make any progress up the hill.” He says the 173rd Airborne would go ahead of the infantry, blanketing the ground with bombs and bullets in an attempt to rouse the North Vietnamese from their foxholes and underground networked tunnels.“

It’s very hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it. You dig a shallow foxhole and you just stay alert,” he said. “You’re on the edge and you try not to let your nerves get the best of you. You’re fighting for yourself and your buddies. You’re just fighting for survival.”

Farruggio did survive, but only after taking shrapnel from a B-40 rocket in his back. After two weeks in a Quinn Yan hospital, the soldier rejoined his company, only to contract malaria and go back to the hospital for another three weeks. The year had gotten quiet for the men of the 4th Infantry, but they could have never anticipated that just around the corner was the ace up the North Vietnamese Army’s sleeve.

The 4th Infantry was stationed in the middle of the jungle when the New Year’s Eve Tet Offensive started. But with a proud history and prolific strength, the infantry was immediately choppered to nearby Play Ku City, which was under attack. “It was a pretty nasty firefight,” Farruggio remembered.

His leadership and bravery well established, the Newtown native was promoted to Sgt. E-5 and given a rifle squad to look after following Tet.

“You stop worrying about yourself so much and you have 10 men to worry about,” Farruggio said. “You could cause life or death with any judgment you made.”

In the following months, Farruggio’s company would suffer 90 percent wounded and 60 percent killed in action. He said every time his men would die, new trainees were waiting to replace them.

“By that time, you didn’t even want to really get to know them. You figured their chances of survival were slim,” he said. “It’s probably one of the hardest management jobs anyone could face in life.”

Farruggio came away from the war with a presidential unit citation, Purple Heart and other military honors, but like many Vietnam veterans, he was often ignored by the country for whom he served. But he says the ill-effects of an overwhelmed Veterans Affairs Department of the 1970s and 80s that made so many Vietnam veterans suffer further, has helped teach the VA lessons about how to properly diagnose and treat mentally and physically scarred soldiers from the wars of today.

“I’m just thankful I made it. I don’t know how I made it or why I made it, but I made it,” he said, remembering an infantryman’s credo. “You never lived until you almost died. For those of us who fought for freedom, life has a special flavor that the protected will never know.”

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ed Krensel

Ed Krensel (above) is the CEO and chairman of the Enecon Corporation, a manufacturer of high performance polymers. One of Krensel’s biggest customers is the U.S. Navy. As a non-commissioned officer in charge of all special services and USO shows for the 8th Army, Ed Krensel met several stars of the times including singer and movie star Debbie Reynolds (below, second from left).

Bucks veteran dodged sniper fire
while on guard duty in Korea.

By Bob Staranowicz

The characteristic “click-click” sound from the bolt-action of an M-1 rifle could be heard from beyond the perimeter of the base camp. Strong lights illuminated the bunker line as North Korean ex-POWs ambled just across the outer limits of the base. The war was over, the truce in effect, but pilfered weapons were being used by the former enemy to snipe at the U.S. soldiers as they performed their nightly guard duty in a fully illuminated “fish-bowl.” As several shots rang out, they scurried for cover. Fortunately, on this particular night, however, no one was hit; no one was injured.

The Korean War began in June of 1950 when South Korea was invaded by troops of North Korea. The war continued for over three years and officially ended on July 27, 1953. In Panmunjom, 18 official copies of Korean Armistice Agreement were signed after over 150 meetings spread over two years. The truce went into effect at 10 a.m. on the 27th. All hostilities were suspended and all military forces were withdrawn from a 4,000 meter wide area — the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ. Even though the armistice ceased all hostilities, it was not, and is still not, a permanent treaty.

American troops still had a presence in South Korea after the end of the war and they still do today. Ed Krensel, a Doylestown resident, was sent to Korea after being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1953. Krensel was born in Philadelphia in 1933. After graduating from Olney High School, he attended Temple University for two years. He then entered the military and was off to Camp Pickett, Virginia for basic training, as well as his medical training. After his training was completed, it was off to Korea to serve in the medical aid field. This assignment was short-lived, however, and Ed moved on to serving as the NCO (non-commissioned officer) in charge of all Special Services and USO shows for the 8th Army. In that capacity, he was able to meet many stars of the times, including singer and movie star, Debbie Reynolds, pop music sister duo The Bell Sisters, and the Kim Sisters —a trio who knew no English but memorized the words to American songs. One other personality, who was very supportive of the Armed Forces, was Johnny Grant. Johnny was an American radio personality and television producer who also served as the honorary mayor of Hollywood. He made 15 trips to Korea and during that war provided wounded servicemen with free telephone calls home when they arrived at California’s Travis Air Force Base Hospital. His program was called Grant’s “GI Phone Fund.” This practice is still alive today — Operation Uplink — providing calling cards for our troops serving all over the world.

While Krensel would have liked to have stayed in Korea, he contracted jaundice and was sent to an Army Hospital in Japan. There, he completed his two-year draft commitment. While in Japan, he was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant, serving as an entertainment specialist in the Special Services organization. Although Krensel was in Korea after hostilities had ended, he still had some close calls from sniper fire while on guard duty. The only part of the service that Ed disliked was basic training. He found the rest of his service enjoyable and made many friends. It is these friendships that he misses the most after leaving the service. Ed has been back to Korea five times since leaving duty to visit his old units in Panmunjom in the village of Munsan.

Ed has been happily married to his wife, Vivian, since 1977. He is the CEO and chairman of Enecon Corporation, a manufacturer of high performance polymers. Enecon’s High Performance Polymer Composites Division provides an extraordinary range of repair and reclamation products for all types of fluid flow machinery, equipment, buildings and plant structures. The U.S. Navy is one of Enecon’s biggest customers.

Ed has been a Philadelphia Mummer since 1966 in the Fancy Division. He also enjoys clay shooting in his leisure time. Ed is active member of VFW Post 175 in Doylestown.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bernie D’Ascendis

Bernie D’Ascendis was a steward for the
U.S. Navy. He is pictured here in 1971.

Bristol Borough native had a dream of becoming a clown,
but he took on a much more serious role with the
Navy in 1971 — protecting American tanks in Iceland.

By Tim Chicirda Editor

Bernie D’Ascendis’ acts of service did not end after he was discharged from Iceland in 1972. A former United States Naval Steward, D’Ascendis now is heavily involved in politics and entertainment.

Born in Bristol Borough, D’Ascendis always had a dream of being a clown to bring a smile to the faces of young children, but in 1971, Bernie took on a much serious role in the United States military.

D’Ascendis was stationed in Iceland during the end of the Vietnam War. According to D’Ascendis, the duty of the U.S. Navy in Iceland at the time was to protect American tanks around the border of the Soviet Union.

D’Ascendis recalls how horrible Iceland was at times. Described as “very dormid,” Bernie and his crew enjoyed six months of light and six months of darkness. During the light months, D’Ascendis remembers 23-hour baseball sessions.

Often encountering volcanic rock and blistering, high winds, D’Ascendis does not have the fondest memories of Iceland.

“Iceland wasn’t a fun place to be,” he said. “I remember cockroaches crawling across our backs."

Iceland had been occupied by United States military forces from 1941 until 2006. A NATO ally nation, Iceland was protected by America from Nazi Germany at first. It was later protected by D’Ascendis and company from the Soviet Union. In recent years, it has been protected from things like terrorism, international crime, and drug trafficking, according to the Defense Department.

America still protects Iceland, although they are not stationed there.
Bernie would take care of many of the incoming and outgoing naval officers and cooking was one his specific duties.

“I always got a lot of enjoyment out of cooking,” said D’Ascendis.

Though cooking may not be scene as such a dangerous duty, D’Ascendis gave his gave much of his body and health for our country.

D’Ascendis developed Ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease. The acquisition of the disease was later determined to have been service-related. Ulcerative colitis symptoms usually include ulcers, or open sores, in the colon.

A doctor suggested that D’Ascendis get a colostomy bag, but he refused, claiming that he wanted to go out and try to work, and that is just what he did.

Remaining with the federal government, D’Ascendis worked 13 years with the United States Post Office in Philadelphia.

Now living in Bensalem, D’Ascendis performs another valuable service, as he is now known as “Bernie the Balloon Man.”

Continuing his dream of being a clown, D’Ascendis donates much of his time to kids. Married 15 years to wife Allison, but with no kids of his own, Bernie loves to go out and put a smile on the faces of youngsters.

D’Ascendis performs at parties, parades and events. In fact, Bernie the Balloon Man will offer his service free of charge to VFW or other Veteran-related events.

Now a very lucrative side job, balloon sculpting was taught to D’Ascendis from Spiffy’s Clown School, although Bernie does not enjoy the make-up of the traditional clown.

Bernie’s father-in-law, George Davenport, the President of the Falls Township Lions Clubs, often will give Bernie ample opportunity to give back to his community.

Bernie is also very involved with politics nowadays. A very loud supporter of Congressman Patrick Murphy, D’Ascendis is a part of the representative’s campaign team, creating red, white and blue balloons for many occasions.

“I will do anything to get [Patrick Murphy] votes,” said D’Ascendis.

And, over the course of his life, this has been the case for Bernie D’Ascendis: doing anything for the greater good.

D’Ascendis gave his body and health for our country in Iceland. Bernie has been active in politics, pushing for what he believes will help our country. Bernard has dedicated 13 years as a postal employee. And, Bernie the Balloon Man has given time and energy to putting a smile on the faces of the youth of this nation.

Participating in many walks of life, Bernard D’Ascendis should be saluted for all that he has done.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

William Joseph Severns

Vietnam veteran Bill Severns.

Severns poses with his N Division crewmates aboard the USS
Joseph Strauss. Severn served on the Strauss from 1968-1970.

Lifetime Bucks County resident’s ship was almost sunk on two separate occasions during the
Vietnam War — once from rocket fire near the Mekong Delta and once from “friendly fire.”

By Bob Staranowicz Correspondent

The Vietnam War was the longest military conflict in the history of the United States. U.S. involvement began in 1965 when troops were sent by President Johnson to prevent the South Vietnamese government from collapsing. Ultimately, the goal was never realized. In 1975, Vietnam was reunified under Communist control and in 1976 it officially became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In 1985, President Nixon said, “No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.”
Many Bucks County men and women served in Vietnam and one of them is William Joseph Severns.

Born on March 18, 1946, Bill lived in Willow Grove until 1957 when his family moved to Bensalem. After graduating from Bensalem High School in June of 1964, he joined the Navy one month later and was off to basic training in Great Lakes, Ill. Little did he know that one month after his enlistment, the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident would occur. On Aug. 2, 1964, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. Two days later, the U.S. Navy reported to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that another American destroyer was under attack by the North Vietnamese. In 2005, it was revealed in an official NSA declassified report that the Maddox first fired warning shots in the Aug. 2 incident and that there may have been no North Vietnamese boats at all in the Aug. 4 incident.

Bill enlisted in the Navy because of his interest in nuclear submarines. He attended Basic Enlisted Submarine School, Basic Nuclear Power School and Nuclear Power Prototype Training. After training, Bill was off to Vietnam on four separate six-month tours. He was assigned to the destroyers USS Radford from 1966-1968 and the USS Joseph Strauss from 1968-1970. The mission of the 7th fleet included gunfire support, search and rescue, carrier escort, escort to the USS New Jersey and PBR (Patrol Boat River) / SEAL insertion and extraction support. All of these duties were in support of the mission in Vietnam.

Bill was fortunate in that he only had to set foot on Vietnam soil for supply missions in DaNang and Saigon. His main duties were on-board his assigned ships, one of his more interesting being his responsibility for the desalination plants. These are the systems that converted sea water into feed water for the ship’s boilers and drinkable water for the crew.
I asked Bill what he missed the most while away from home, I received the answer that I get a majority of the time: he missed his family and friends. He also missed social life and his 1965 Pontiac GTO.

There are many enjoyable and many unpleasant experiences that one lives through while being away from home. Bill enjoyed the sea experience, travel to different ports and escorting the USS New Jersey. Some of his favorite ports of call were Australia, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The unpleasant duties of his service included the monotonous routines, the sometimes unbearable heat, the unpleasant smells and standing watch. His worst duties also included gunfire support off North and South Vietnam.

Even though Bill didn’t serve in-country, he did have several close calls. His ship was nearly sunk on two separate occasions. One incident involved hostile rocket fire off the coast of Vietnam near the Mekong Delta. The other was from “friendly fire” when a US plane dropped four bombs while evacuating a North Vietnamese coastal mission. The latter incident was the basis for a three month dry-dock situation so that shrapnel could be removed from radar and other above-deck equipment.

Some of the more rewarding experiences that Bill shared with me include surviving storms at sea, crossing the equator and just watching the many flying fish and porpoises that always followed the fleet.

When Bill returned to California from Vietnam, he experienced protests similar to those witnessed by many other returning Vets. He saw the “Baby Killer” signs and dealt with the verbal harassment. When he returned to college, he soon noticed that Vets gathered with other Vets and avoided normal fraternities and mainstream clubs.

After his active service, Bill received an AA from Bucks County Community College and then earned a BS in Elementary Education from Trenton State College — now the College of New Jersey.

Some of the awards and medals Bill received include the Navy-Marine Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Navy Reserve Meritorious Service, National Defense, Vietnam Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism, Navy Marine Overseas Medal, Navy Sea Service, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with Silver Hour Glass, and the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal.

Sixteen years after Bill was discharged from the Navy, he decided to enlist in the Navy Reserve initially as a part-time job. He has recently retired from the reserves as a senior chief petty officer after 26 years of total combined service. He is also retired form the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. He works part time as a driver for the Office of Military Affairs of Bucks County taking veterans to and from Philadelphia and Coatesville medical facilities.

Bill is also involved with many veterans organizations, including Vietnam Veterans of America Post 210 where he serves on the Education Committee, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 175, the American Legion Post 148, the Navy League, Chief Petty Officer Association and the Tin Can Sailors Association. He is also the director of the NERA (Navy Enlisted Reserve Association).
Bill’s father, who passed in 2006, was a World War II veteran. His dad saw combat in Anzio, Salerno, North Africa and Monte Cassino while serving with the 5th Army.

Bill lives in Doylestown and has been a lifetime Bucks County resident. He is married to his wife of 30 years, Susan Hesch, a courageous breast cancer survivor. They have a son, Zachary, who is a graduate of Central Bucks High School West. Zachary spent 15 years with Tiger Schulmann’s Karate program and has earned a third degree black belt.

Bill should be very proud of his 26 years of service to his country and Bucks County should be grateful for his service and the service of all Veterans.

Bill is a driver for the Bucks County Veterans Van. If you would like to help in keeping the Veterans Van up and running, your donation is tax deductible and will go only to the operation of this vehicle as there is no administration cost.

For information, call 215-345-3885. If you wish to make a contribution, please make your check payable to: County of Bucks Veterans Transportation. Mail To: Department of Veterans Affairs, Neshaminy Manor Center, Bldg. K, Doylestown, Pa. 18901.

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Name: BucksLocalNews

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