Flag flies for Vincent Ciano

Flag flies for Vincent Ciano photo

In its mission to take history out of the textbooks by honoring a local veteran each month of the school year, the Hampton Bays School District is paying tribute to Vincent Ciano by flying an American flag in his honor throughout the month of November.

“The district is proud to honor Mr. Ciano for his bravery and service to the United States,” said Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen. 

Mr. Ciano, who gave 33 years of service to the country as a member of the Army Infantry, the Guard and U.S. Air Force, was honored at an annual Veterans Day breakfast and ceremony held on Nov. 8 at Hampton Bays Elementary School. During the event, fourth- and fifth-grade students read his biography, spoke about the importance of Veterans Day and sang the songs of the U.S. armed forces’ five branches. 

With seven honors, including his prized Combat Infantry Badge, compressing 33 years of service to a short biography would mean leaving too much out or briefly touched upon. The below account concentrates on the years 1964-1966 in which Mr. Ciano served.

Private First Class Ciano enlisted at the age of 19 and was sent to Vietnam directly after basic training and assigned to MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam). He spent his 21st birthday there. During the turbulent years of 1964-1966, the country was increasingly anti-military with chants and many young people actively protesting the military. While this was happening, Pfc. Ciano was pulling perimeter guard in whatever outpost the helicopter happened to drop him. Most didn’t have names, but all had sameness due to the jungle. 

Mr. Ciano recalls a MASH unit by the village of Tien Hiep, but most camps only had nicknames. One camp, “Sherwood Forest,” had tanks and was ringed with booby traps —  the location of which only local villagers seemed to know. Vietnam was the first modern war: the enemy, faceless and rarely seen, wore no uniforms. Quiet times were as stressful as fire fights because attacks could happen anytime. Seemingly peaceful farmers became Viet Cong at night. A walk down any village street could suddenly be disrupted by violence. The humidity was awful, so wet that one’s watch fogged over and, during the monsoon, mashed potatoes would wash away over one’s mess kit. Nostalgically, Mr. Ciano still carries his Army-issue C-Ration can opener on his key chain. 

During this time, Pfc. Ciano’s duty was simple: no one was to get under the wire, and when snipers fired at night, he and his squad were to go after them, knowing that finding them was unlikely. Also knowing, snipers were not the only hazard; cobras loudly hissed when anyone trespassed on their turf. While scary, for Ciano, this was routine. 

Mr. Ciano served quietly and honorably, following orders regardless of conditions. He was surprised that he, like all Vietnam vets, received a frosty welcome on return to the states. He also was surprised that he, like most vets, were ill prepared for a return to civilian life. The army said, “Go home. Be normal,” but did not tell the soldiers how. 

On return to the states, Mr. Ciano was numb, not feeling anything, given to odd moods. A smell or sound could set him off and crowds made him nervous. PTSD was not yet recognized, but many returning vets had emotional damage that went untreated for years. Ultimately, Senior Master Sgt. Ciano got help with his PTSD at the Babylon Vet Center. Importantly, by helping him, the Vet Center helped him help others. 

Since then, he has worked to assist vets with PTSD – sometimes just listening, other times talking them “off the ledge.” Mr. Ciano believes in paying back; he too has been on that ledge.