Lt. Joseph Gambino, Jr.

Lt. Joseph Gambino, Jr.  1949-1973

Joe Gambino on the ceiling, Cornell University

I came across the website Wall of Faces (, a remembrance of service people who perished in the VietNam War.  Since my post is greater than the 512 character capacity there, I have posted the more extensive reminiscence here:

This has been my first look at the Wall of Faces site.  I am ever so thankful for all of the touching remembrances posted here about my brother Joseph Gambino, from the various facets of his life.  Those from people whom I also know are especially evocative for me, stirring up memories of our fond associations.

Joseph was two years older than me.  He skipped a grade in elementary school (PS 95, Bronx) and then was in the accelerated program (SP) at JHS 143 that condensed three years into two.  So he was two years ahead of most of his original cohort. I did not overlap with him at either JHS 143 or Bronx High School of Science.

That guy was like the ultimate jock – excellent at any sport he applied himself to. As the Bronx HS of Science alums recall, there was no varsity football team, but there was an annual seniors-versus-juniors match, up on Harris Field.  Joe’s junior year was the first time that the seniors were defeated, a source of considerable pride at the time.  In high school he was on the swimming team and the gymnastics team.

In the Kingsbridge Little League (Bronx), Joe was a star on the Fanny Farmer team – I was a spectator at the no-hitter he threw, and I think he also scored the only run of that game.  Later on I was a lackluster third baseman on the North Side Savings Bank (AKA North New York once it changed hands) team.  The only sport that I could compete on approximately even terms was basketball, just a minor sideline for him.  I had the height advantage; he brought some of the football lineman roughhouse sensibility to the play “in the paint” (the rebound zone) that was, shall we say, lacking nuance.  Later, when he attended Cornell he was center on the 150 football team – this was part of a separate athletic team circuit; students on the team could weigh no more than 150 pounds.  I remember  sessions with him where all we did was practice his hiking the ball to me as I stood in for the punter.  He also took up boxing, not sure if there was a team about this.  It was always to my advantage to have him on my side.   Nuance was not his forté.

By the time of his enlistment in the US Air Force, we were on separate paths.  He surely loved flying, and being able to say how he was protecting our liberties (including the right to be against the war).  I’m sure he would have preferred to be in a serious attack plane, shooting big time at the enemy,  rather than forward air control – whose primary mission is to scout out the targets for the big boys.  The OV-10 had some modest armament, and he welcomed opportunities to discharge them before returning to base.  By 1973, the war was winding down and there was less rationale for our military involvement; Joe still wanted to get his shots in, and the opinion (of some) within his squadron was that Joe was flying “too hard”.   Officer Church’s recounting in this thread is right on the money: “Joe was an aggressive FAC, not reluctant to get close for a good look at his target.” Unfortunately, doing so also gave the ground batteries a good look at him; he had returned safely from at least one previous mission with his tail all shot up.  His luck ran out on his birthday.

I will welcome and respond to email correspondence from anyone wishing for further exchange.

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