Written by Juliana Simone
July 11, 2015
Plainville, CT – It is unclear still today where Hartford native John Puzzo is, as we had heard years ago now, he passed away. This has been a hard thing to confirm. Still, I’ll leave up what I wrote about him after being told he passed, because he is a man of note, whether still with us or not.
He had many titles. He was last perceived as an insurance and investment professional, but this was a minor view of the great man who served his country. Though he dedicated seventeen years to his work as a financial advisor with many well-known companies, such as Aetna, Citigroup and AMEX, to those who knew him, he was a seasoned Army veteran who participated in counter terrorism operations and the global war on terror.
He spent three years under the designation High Threat Personal Protection Officer and security consultant, and included on his background on LinkedIn the designation of ANTI-TERRORST OPERATIONS, Iraq: Armed Personal Security Escort in High Threat, non-permissive Areas, Force Protection Operations, Residential and Installation Security Operations, Emergency and Contingency Response, Surveillance/Counter Surveillance Operations.
His professional profile also included this on LinkedIn:
July 2004 – November 2007 (3 years 5 months) Iraq; USA.
Private Military Contractor, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Global War On Terror; GS-12 (O-4) Rating
November 1968 – August 1971 (2 years 10 months) Republic of Viet Nam
Served in Viet Nam as Long Range Patrol team member and sniper with Company K (RANGER), 75th Infantry (Airborne), and as artillery Forward Observer to the Infantry, an Infantryman and a Combat Engineer with the 4th Infantry Division.
John authored two books “Vietnam and Hollywood” and “K75th Rangers: The Highlanders.” He was a guest and commentator on politics and the Middle East appearing on CNN and ABC among other broadcasts to share his insights on Iraq, terrorism and what the United States of America needs to do to combat this threat which is still active today. John’s views can be heard here, in an exceptional hour and a half long interview on blog talk radio:
The sensitive side to this great man, as well, shows he spent time as a published writer, photographer and poet. Forty images of John’s can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. A poem he also chose to share on his profile on LinkedIn reads as follows:
Out there in the sea, with others of his kind
he looks back at you,
still there, on the shore, with your feet in the sand.
You are the last thing he sees, too.
They share something very precious
in the sea of sacrifice where they live now.
This ocean will never die.
It will keep sending them back to us
Fluid in four languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese) and conversational Arabic, he was an educated man, with a BA from UCONN and studies at Yale University, the Sorbonne in Paris, Boston University, the Art Institute of Boston and the University of the Americas in South America. He added a Master’s Degree in National Security Policy Studies from the University of New Haven in 2015.
Like many accomplished men from an older era, John was a modest man. He does not boast about any of these achievements when people are in his company. This author has to say probably half of this is news to me.
I was privileged to share Thanksgiving Dinner with John and his wonderful son John at his home in Plainville in 2010 with someone I spent a few years writing politics for on his internet news website.
He was a gracious host who gave us many hours of entertaining conversation that showed his intelligence, humor, wit, valor, compassion, sophistication, concerns and integrity. Most of all, he radiated what a unique individual he was in terms of humankind. His children John and Sarah were or are lucky to have such a fine father. The world and America loses great soldier every day, and all of us who knew John recognize his very special life, indeed.
The last time I saw John was outside of a restaurant in Plainville where Fifth Congressional Republican candidate Justin Bernier was running for a second time in a crowded field that included State Senator Andrew Roraback, Mark Greenberg – also running for a second time – and Lisa Wilson Foley. Trying to cover such a large group on the night of the primary for final comments from everyone on the ballot before the numbers came in, I rushed past him in my haste.
He called out to me, and asked, “Juliana, you don’t have time for an old friend?” I quickly turned and saw John. It was so moving to see him. I rushed over to him and gave him a hug. He reminded me that he had to walk over to the event but still wanted to watch what was going on. We chatted for a few minutes.
If I’d known that was going to be the last time I saw him, I would have called it a night and gone and shared a glass of wine with him. Not that the politics on hand weren’t important – they were – but it was pretty clear who was going to win the primary despite Justin and Mark being fine contenders. But as it always is in life, when suddenly someone you admired is gone or no longer part of your life, you wish they were still here, and that you could have more time, or even one more moment to tell them so. Looking through our email exchanges yesterday and this evening, I saw one of John’s final sentences to me: “You are always welcome here.” Thank you, John.
Juliana Simone and John Puzzo Barkhamsted CT 2010
John Puzzo submitted these words to Ameriborn News on Facebook:
As untrue as the following statement is it remains the cultural memory of the Viet Nam War, institutionalized across the spectrum of print and broadcast media, in the courts, by legislation, in the workplace and especially in academia where the experts tell us all what is and what is not. In the universe of ‘Vietnam and the Opinion makers’ a generation of American veterans became disenfranchised by their own country, willing as it was to accept an undeserved and untrue reputation, articulated by future US Senator John Kerry in testimony before Congress in March of 1971:
“[US soldiers in Viet Nam]…raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam…These were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command…The country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history…”
My premise for creating the Viet Nam War Veterans Oral History Project in 1980 was simple: To counter that generally accepted deception about the Viet Nam Veteran and use their own words to do it. I hoped to earn a PhD in American History from UConn in the process.
This project and the NEH grant that funded it would be the basis of my doctoral dissertation, but the project itself would become part of the story of the Viet Nam War Veteran and the historical record, and I would never get my Doctorate.
What began with such promise ended nearly orphaned. Two years of my life were dissolved on a seemingly ephemeral pursuit: Change the way the world viewed the Vietnam veteran and the war, one person at a time.
Two great Connecticut institutions, The University of Connecticut – flagship of Connecticut’s university system, and the Connecticut Historical Society – the State’s premier archival repository, in this instance revealed themselves to be common and inclined to bias.
This is what happened. As a Viet Nam War veteran and an individual who loved scholarship and the academic life I thought it was time, in 1980, to redefine what Kerry had said about the Vietnam nine years before.
I received the backing of the American Legion as my sponsor and earned a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, administered through the Connecticut Humanities Council which is the state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This work would help resolve issues and misunderstanding about a controversial War and contribute to some much needed healing of the nation. After all Viet Nam was a national experience, not just the veterans’.
As principal architect of this effort and project director, I was responsible for everything, including the budget and the finished product – the biographies of the veterans in the form of oral histories and transcripts spoken in their own words.
The University of Connecticut would be the repository of the tapes and transcripts associated with the interviews but it grew beyond that. NERAC, one of four national mega-data base research application centers offered as a matching donation a very large block of computer-based research. NERAC proved to be a valuable resource. Their interlocking data bases dumped thousands of articles, monographs, and studies on the Viet Nam War and the veteran, principal of these (and totally unanticipated) were associated with the health aspects of service in Vietnam.
The granting authority required that three PhDs act as ‘Scholars’ for the project who would be independent but answered to me as to direction of the work. When the accountant I hired to oversee the budget reported that monies were spent by two of the Scholar historians to interview a veteran who had stories to tell about ‘atrocities’ I asked them about it. “Was this veteran vetted, how did you get his name and do you know him,” were some of the questions I wanted answered.
That is when things changed. My office – little more than a closet – at Wood Hall on the UConn campus was closed, my keys confiscated, the phone was disconnected, and I had only limited access to my work in that it was only available during office hours. This created a huge hardship for me and I believed it would impair the success of the project.
When the campus closed for Christmas break that year I packed what remained of my project out of the History department and down to my car. A blizzard was raging. As I was backing out, the Chairman of the History Department engaged me in conversation as UConn police arrived. I left that day with my material intact and severed my relationship with UConn forever.
On Veteran’s Day in 1982 the Viet Nam War Veteran’s Oral History Project was dedicated in a small function at the Connecticut Historical Society. Many of the Veterans were there.
The Director of the Society, Christopher P, Bickford, publicly received the “Tape recordings, transcripts, and other memorabilia of the Viet Nam War Veterans Oral History Project.” 36 vets had participated, most were from Connecticut and many had extraordinary stories they had told.
Incredibly, he Historical Society promptly deep-sixed everything.
For many years after the dedication, decades, in fact, the “Viet Nam War Veterans Oral History Project” could not be found by me or by anyone else. In 1988, 6 years after the dedication, I was at the Historical Society looking for evidence of my project – something I did periodically and unannounced, I opened a crate of heavy books entitled, “The Bibliographies of New England History.” I went to theConnecticut volume and to the index to look for Viet Nam related items.
There I found 100% of what was catalogued as ‘Viet Nam’ in this directory of Connecticut specific reference material was by, for, and about the Anti-war movement in Connecticut. Not one word about Connecticut’s two (at the time living) Medal of Honor recipients, the number of memorials dedicated to the Viet Nam War and Veteran in Connecticut towns, and of course, nothing about the “Viet Nam War Veterans Oral History Project.”
The Director of the Connecticut Historical Society, Christopher P. Bickford was also the Treasurer of the collection, ‘Bibliographies of New England History.’
More that 20 years later, and after three tours in Iraq as a private military contractor I once again looked for my former project at the Historical Society. It did not appear in any of the Connecticut Historical Society’s online sources and when I called, no one seemed quite sure what or where or it was or if they had it.
It took a lot of effort and I know I annoyed them quite a bit, but eventually they did locate the remains and on Veteran’s day of 2010, I rededicated what lingered of the old project. Of the 36 original transcripts only 14 were left. None of the Tapes or memorabilia survived.
The two couples who served together in Viet Nam as husband and wife, the nurses with poignant stories, the infantryman from Puerto Rico who lost an arm, the General who gently put down a rebellion of mountain forest dwelling allies, the pilot who flew top secret intelligence missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Marine who got out of Jail by joining the Marine Corps, and John Levitow, the airman who was awarded the Medal of Honor in Vietnam – all lost to history as far as this project was concerned.
Me? Well, after changing the world all I wanted was to wear argyle sweaters, knit ties and tweed jackets with corduroy pants and crepes sole penny loafers as a professor of History somewhere. That became lost, too.