By Joyce Stoeberl
Editor’s Note: This article is written by Joyce Stoeberl, who is the widow of Nicholas P. Lesando, Jr.
Fifty years ago, today, Sept. 26, a young soldier from Warwick died in the service of his country while serving in Vietnam. Cpl. Nicholas P. Lesando, Jr., of Company C, 1st Battalion 173rd Airborne, 503D Infantry, was mortally wounded by enemy fire when his unit, on a recon mission, engaged an enemy force in combat.
On this day Company C encountered intense automatic weapons fire and constant reception of enemy hand grenades from an estimated reinforced enemy force in fortified, concealed bunkers near the landing zone Uplift, Republic of Vietnam. As the platoon began deploying to bring effective fire upon the enemy, the platoon leader was wounded.
Cpl. Lesando immediately moved to the aid of the platoon leader and pulled him to safety. He then returned through the fire to the point of contact. He took a position that allowed him to place effective fire on the enemy though he was exposed to the intense enemy fire. It was at this time that Cpl. Lesando was mortally wounded. He was cited for his bravery and devotion to duty in connection with this military operation and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Heroism (First Oak Leaf Cluster).
Nicky Lesando and Craig Miller, another Warwick young man, left for the service the same day, Nov. 14, 1967. They went through basic training together and ended up serving side-by-side in the same company and platoon. It was Craig who accompanied Nicky’s body home.
At the time he was killed, Nicky was just three weeks shy of his 22nd birthday as well as his first wedding anniversary. These were celebrations that never happened for him. The promise of a future was not to be.
The Vietnam War was not without its controversy. Strong feelings against it often made it difficult for the soldiers to receive the respect and support they deserved. Despite this being the situation, Nicky was ready and willing to answer the call to serve his country.
Here is a poem that he wrote to his young wife fifty years ago while stationed in Vietnam that captures his feelings at the time.
To My Wife with Love
Here I sit far from home thinking of you
Knowing someday my tour here will be through
I really don’t know the reason I’m here
Except to keep you from living in fear
My mind and thoughts are twisted and bent
But God wanted me here that’s why I was sent
I’m really not afraid nor am I brave
But I’m here with my buddies to fight and to save
I hope what we’re trying to do will get done
And that the Lord will reward us when we have won
But only when the bombing and firing cease
That you and I and everyone else will live in peace.
In 1990 the American Legion Post 214 honored Cpl. Lesando by adding his name to the title of their post.
Post Commander Jerry Schacter said, “We are honored to have Nicholas Lesando, Jr.’s name emblazoned on our Post as a tribute to his service, his community, and his sacrifice.”
Nicky was born to parents, Nicholas P. Lesando, Sr. and his wife, Caroline, who both believed that a life dedicated to the service of others was a life well-lived.
Nick Sr. volunteered for the military in 1941 by joining the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the United States Air Force. He proudly served for 21 years and was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He attained the rank of Senior Master Sergeant and served in many national and international locations.
In 1962 after retiring from active military duty, Nick Sr. returned with his family (wife Caroline, and children Carol, Nicky, and Joey) to settle in his hometown of Warwick. Immediately, Nick Sr. joined the American Legion Post 214. His wife joined the American Legion Auxiliary. Nick Sr. was an active member of the post. He would be the one organizing group tours and the annual Christmas party. He was also the one selling flags and raffle tickets, renting out the hall, soliciting new members and even filling up the bus with people for trips to the Casinos. He loved the Legion and he loved his country.
Known for their unselfish mentoring of others, both Nick and Caroline had a special place in their hearts for the men and woman of the military. Nick served in numerous offices with the American Legion including several terms as Vice Commander and Commander. He was voted Legionnaire of the Year twice and was honored as Grand Marshall of the Warwick Memorial Day Parade on more than one occasion. Nick and Caroline were proud to be part of this annual parade and while he marched she would ride in a car and be recognized as a Gold Star Mother. Both were a fixture of the event year after year as they were chosen to place the ceremonial wreath at the cemetery location.
Nick and Caroline had a strong commitment to the Warwick Community. He was a 70 plus year member of the Raymond Hose Fire Company and she was a member of the Catholic Daughters.
There is no doubt that Nicky Jr. would have followed in his parent’s footsteps given the opportunity. This was a family who, while they were here, made a difference in the lives of others. They would want all of us to remember to salute and support our military.