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A Marine’s Love Story

Value Added: When forgotten audiotapes to his wife resurface and bring back faded memories, Marine warrior Charles Migliorino fulfills one final mission.
A Marine’s Love Story

A Marine’s Love Story

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Vietnam War

Show Details

Show 1622: A Marine’s Love Story
Air Date: May 29, 2016

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Well, our country’s armed forces are a powerful presence in Oklahoma. Home to five different military installations and over 300,000 veterans, Oklahoma’s commitment to service is both deep and wide. Today, we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those that have returned home. Well, like many warriors that have witnessed war firsthand, Charles Migliorino was happy to let those memories fade into the past. But when his wife of 40-plus years found some forgotten audiotapes, he knew he had a final mission to complete. We begin today with a Marine’s love story.

Alice Migliorino: I got this steak for our anniversary tonight.

Rob: It’s dinnertime for Alice and Charles Migliorino.

Charles Migliorino: With a lot of butter.

Rob: Nothing fancy, even if tonight is their 43rd anniversary. Inseparable through the years, they met in college, Alice a homecoming queen, and Charles the big man on campus and on the court.

Charles Migliorino: And I did real well at Murray. I, you know, I was the sixth highest scorer in the nation in junior college.

Alice: And I thought, “Oh, what a nice lookin’ young man.”

Rob: A budding relationship, yet Charles knew there was something else he needed to do.

Charles: I was in the dormitory, and uh, there was Life magazine and it was, there was a story about some soldiers, they weren’t Marines, they were soldiers. And, the officer, who was a 22-year-old officer, had called artillery in on them because they were basically being surrounded and engulfed by North Vietnamese. The story mentioned, you know, 18-, 19-year-olds. And, here I am 17 years old, almost 18 years old, and I’m just sitting in a dormitory waiting to go to class and then waiting for basketball practice, and I figured, “This is just not what I want to do.”

Rob: So Charles joins the Marines; off to boot camp at Paris Island, with his love back in Oklahoma.

Alice: After he joined, he wrote me a letter and asked me if I would marry him; I said sure. So he went and bought me ring and [laugh] that was that.

Charles: Had it delivered.

[laughing]

Alice: Had it delivered; it came in the mail.

Rob: Little time for romance, when you are heading off to Vietnam.

Charles: We came over on very heavy stateside utilities, which really weren’t practical in that kind of environment. One thing I had a problem with was boots, I have a large foot and, uh, they didn’t have that size. So they told me to look in this huge box to see if I could find something that would fit. I didn’t realize that the box that I got the boots out of was a medevac box; these are boots and other clothes that were taken off guys that were wounded or killed.

Rob: Just the first of the harsh realities of being a Marine in 1968. Shipped to the front lines, Charles found himself along the infamous DMZ.

Charles: We were surrounded by North Vietnamese everywhere. During the time when I first got over there, it was raining quite a bit. It was hot and cold; you were issued field jackets because not only was it real hot, but it would get cold enough and wet enough to where you wear a field jacket.

Rob: And it was here he became friends with the old man of the platoon, Mike Feraro.

Charles: Mike and I were good friends. Mike was, in January of 1968, he turned 21, and I was just fixing to turn 19, I would be 19 in February. He was an older guy, and he had been over there a little longer than me. But he had a fantastic sense of humor; he’d make fun of everything or, sort of, he was the kind of guy that was always joking around and always the lighter side of stuff. And you could a, he was kind of a, a clown, but then you could learn a lot from him, and, uh, I knew enough to know that, and we hung out a lot, we talked a lot.

Rob: About life and survival in a land so far away from home.

Charles: Letters were very important things. Letters are the things that wanted a lot of. You wanted to hear from somebody; you wanted to hear from somebody, you know, that you loved.

Alice: It’s like going back home, too.

Charles: Yeah, it's like going back home; it's like being at home.

Rob: But not all the boys’ letters were welcome ones.

Charles: If you’re around a bunch of guys writing their girlfriends back home, they’re getting dear John letters and stuff like that, you’re just trying to keep your girlfriend [laugh]; that’s one thing, that’s just the reality of it.

Rob: So Charles had another idea, rather than write, he taped his love letters on an old reel-to-reel tape player.

[taped recording]

Charles: Damn, I hope nobody else is listening because I’d feel sort of embarrassed if they heard the lousy tape I’m making up. And if you let anybody hear it, I’ll go nuts. And, please don’t tell me if you let anybody hear it. [end recording]

Charles: There was a lot of I love yous in there.

[taped recording]

Charles: I say it all the time; I love you a whole lot and I wish I was there. [end recording]

Charles: And uh, that kind of stuff, and every time I taped, there were a bunch of guys there. But everybody understood that, you know. You wouldn’t think that around a bunch of guys you wouldn’t get that lovey-dovey, you know, and show those emotions. But you didn't care. You just did it because, and everyone understood, and, there was no “Hey, I heard you say this,” or, “I heard you say that.” You know, there was nothing like that. I think probably a bunch of kids that did a lot of immature things, too, they were, we were very respectful, cognizant and knew that these were important things.

Rob: So when Mike walked in without knowing Charles was talking to Alice, you could hear the apologies.

[taped recording]

Charles: And here comes Mike Feraro. What’s everybody coming here for?

Mike Feraro: Hey man, what’s going on? What is this, a love letter or what? Is that on now?

Charles: Yeah, it’s on, I wanted to see if you were.

Mike: How’s your girlfriend?

Charles: Yeah, my girl [laugh].

Mike: I’m sorry man. [end recording]

Rob: Now, while Mike liked to kid around, their job was often deadly serious.

Charles: And four of us, a fire team, and Mike was in our fire team, four men in the fire team, would go out at night, way out by ourselves, beyond the wire, and basically it’s a listening post, basically what is is, if anything comes in at night, you get hit first.

Rob: Developing a bond that went beyond their years; yet boys will be boys.

Charles: And it was raining, and all the time it seemed like, and were mostly eating C-rations, but at one point they sent out a field kitchen, and we went out, and they put things on these little flimsy paper plates. And Mike was with me, and we were just trying to see where we were going, we had flak jackets on, we had, you had to wear helmets and flak jackets. We were, you know, we had our rifles with us, and we’re walking along, and it’s like this, and the ravines, there’s not very many good paths, or anything like that. And it's dark, and we both slip at the same time, and the stuff falls down in this red dirt, and Mike looks at me and says, “Expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive! [laugh] Let’s eat this shit.” So, uh, and we got that stuff, and we cleaned it off, and we just sat there in the mud, and we just sat, we didn't even go back to the hole in the ground that we were living in, and we just sat there and ate it. And, you know, he was joking and said, “You know, damn if we had some damn candles, I could fall in love with you!” You know, [laugh] you know, stupid stuff.

Rob: Two friends, a half a world away from home, living in the harshest of conditions that in a blink of an eye can turn deadly.

Charles: You know, we went through all this training and jungle warfare, you know, all this stuff, and yet we were moving in the same kind of groups that they moved in the second world war, carrying tons of stuff. You could hear us coming for miles. They sat an ambush, these are North Vietnamese, and, uh, on March 6 of 1968, my company took 38 killed in one ambush, and Mike was one of them. Mike was, uh, he was, uh, it was, uh, it was mortar, but, uh, so [slaps hands].

Rob: Charles survived that attack, but lost a buddy, carrying on to earn his own Purple Hearts.

Charles: The one time I was wounded in the legs, uh, there were two guys behind me, and the mortar came in, and I caught shrapnel in the back of my legs, but they caught the big pieces of shrapnel. I was, when I got hit in the head, I was in a hole, and I was trying to see where the mortar was shooting at us, you know, you could hear a thump, and you know, but if you’re down in your hole, you can’t see a flash. But you can’t, you know, see anything, so I lifted up, and, uh, one of the thumps that I did not hear, hit the ground and I caught a piece, you know, in the head, in the front of my head. I seen, I seen people that had been hit before, and people, you know, a lot of the time they don't know how bad they’re hit. And you see them laying there and they’re talking, and you know, oh god, you know this is really, really, really bad. So the first thing I did was to see if the top of my head was still there, you know, if the bone was still there, because I’d seen people with the bone, you know, knocked off that were still talking. And so it could have been a bigger piece that could have killed me, so, it’s always that, it’s always, you know, you’re just lucky. Or you know, if, you know, or someone’s looking over you.

Rob: After his tour, Charles came home to Alice. They marry. Start a family. Teach school. Charles becomes an attorney, and now, a judge.

Alice: We pretty much just get on like nothing had ever happened. You know, we had like a short little honeymoon phase. I took this purse out and --

Rob: Memories of Vietnam began to fade, until Alice found an old purse, and inside, the reel-to-reel tapes Charles had made for her so long ago. And on these tapes, the voice of his friend Mike.

[taped recording]

Mike: And that’s the red dirt. Of course I was the only one who was squared away. Of course, I was really trying to tell your boyfriend here to … so I had to just plan it all by myself. [end recording]

Charles: You know, when I heard his voice, and I heard what he was saying, uh, I knew he had sisters and you know, I knew he lived in Massapequa, and I said, “You know, they hadn’t seen or heard of him, you know, heard from him since 1968.”

Rob: So Charles has one last mission: to bring his buddy home.

Charles: They just need to hear this.

[taped recording]

Charles: OK, we’re ready for a couple interviews, well one interview anyway, is Mike Feraro. He’s gonna give us an opinion, his opinion, excuse me, on Vietnam, for what it’s worth.

Mike: It ain’t worth nothin’. Let me tell ‘em about the time I won the Medal of Honor.

Charles: Oh yeah, tell ‘em about the time you won the Medal of Honor, Feraro. [end recording]

[phone ringing]

Rob: Charles found Mike’s sister and sent her the recordings.

[phone conversation]

Charles: Pat?

Pat Petrone: Yes.

Charles: This is Charles, Pat; Charlie.

Pat: Awesome, yeah!

Rob: Recordings made with love that gave a sister a final reunion with a beloved brother.

Pat: A gift I never expected to get, and yet to hear his voice after all these years and also hear it over there in such a dark place, but how they could still joke; my brother could still, joking and talking with all that was going on. It just really, I almost felt like, oh I’m getting a little emotional, that I was there. And just to hear his voice, to know that he was with friends.

Charles: You know, Pat, Mike’s sense of humor and all that, did something for me. And, uh, you know, the songs he’d make up about people and you know, the little, the little songs he’d made up about, you know, Riley. And, uh, those, those are things that made, that were wonderful things for me. And, uh, like I told you, my, my grandkids and my son, my daughter and everybody will know about, you know, they know about Mike. And they’ve heard the tapes, and so, you know without sounding corny, he’s gonna live with them. And then the other things is, you know, he’s part of my life, and I’m not gonna forget him. You know, I forgot a lot of things, and I tried to forget a lot of things, but, OK?

Pat: [crying] Sorry if I’m a little emotional.

Charles: Well, I am.

Pat: I mean, after all these years, it still comes back, but those things touch me, just what you’re telling me, cause I think that’s just so great. And not to sound corny, too, but I really loved my brother; it’s just so nice that somebody cared about him and just wanted to keep his memory alive. And I really, I think that’s wonderful. [end conversation]

Charles: Myself now, I’m looking back at kids; that’s what you, and you’re listening to kids talk, teenagers talk about stuff and trying to be as grown up as the situation warranted, but still kids. And that’s what I hear when I listen to that, and you know, I can't help but think, you know, it’s a damn shame, you know, that, uh, because they were good people. But when Veterans Day gets here, I think about those guys, and I thank ’em, and I miss ’em.

Rob: And like many veterans, Charles’ battle was not over when he left Vietnam. Within six years of his return he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, an all too common cancer for those veterans exposed to Agent Orange. He battled and won that fight, and like he told us, tried to put the war behind him. But when the traveling Vietnam Memorial came to nearby Tishomingo, he found his friends’ names on the wall and asked if he could spend the night there -- one last patrol with the boys of his youth, who made the ultimate sacrifice.