On a new year’s mission

Laura L. Nevin was cleaning out her jewelry box when she spotted it.

And that put the Shelbyville, Mich., resident on a new year’s mission – to connect with family who might want the Prisoner of War bracelet bearing the name of Follansbee native Air Force Capt. Ray Salzarulo Jr., who was killed during the Vietnam War.

Nevin came by the bracelet more than 40 years ago.

“I wore it in the early 1970s when I was in high school,” Nevin communicated to the Herald-Star in a recent appeal for assistance in finding family interested in having the bracelet as a memento.

“Back then, we didn’t have Internet, so I didn’t know what his fate was,” she said. “The POW bracelets were very popular, and many of my friends had one.”

Nevin never knew anything about Salzarulo until she used the Internet as a starting point.

“I found an article from your paper about a parade in 2008 that honored area natives that were killed in Vietnam,” Nevin said.

“I googled the name and found an article from your paper dated July 13, 2008, and written by Warren Scott (Brooke County reporter). It said Ray Salzarulo was from Follansbee, and members of his family were parade marshals for the Follansbee Community Days parade,” she said.

“I am hoping there is still family in the area that would appreciate having the bracelet,” Levin added.

The newspaper article detailed how the Follansbee Community Days dinner was occasion to honor the families of two Follansbee natives who paid the ultimate price while serving their country.

Then Gov. Joe Manchin and then Follansbee Mayor Tony Paesano had joined organizers of the annual festival in recognizing Salzarulo in addition to Army Sgt. Joseph “Joey” Perito.

Salzarulo spent his early life in Follansbee before going on to serve as an Air Force pilot in the Vietnam War. The 24-year-old was serving as bombardier and navigator aboard a Phantom F4 aircraft when the two-seater plane was shot down over the Bac Thai province of Northern Vietnam on Sept. 4, 1966, according to Scott’s article.

The plane’s pilot, Air Force 1st Lt. John Nasmyth Jr., was captured by the Vietnamese following the crash and was told Salzarulo had been killed. Salzarulo was declared Missing In Action until his remains were returned to the United States in 1990.

Salzarulo, who attended Linsly School and graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1964, had flown key combat missions over Southeast Asia in July and August of that same year, according to a citation declaring him a recipient of the Air Force’s Air Medal.

The citation applauded Salzarulo for exhibiting outstanding airmanship and courage and a high level of professionalism.

A citation accompanying the posthumous award to Salzarulo was the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is given for heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight, stated he demonstrated a high level of professional competence, aerial skills and devotion to duty during the mission that had met its intended goal before his plane was shot down, according to the article.

Bill McGeehan of Columbus and Nancy Hobbs of Wheeling, cousins of Salzarulo who attended the dinner on the family’s behalf, had said at the event that Salzarulo military duties led to his missing the birth of his daughter, and he was killed before he was able to see her.

They also had noted that Salzarulo had not met his own father because he had been among those killed at Pearl Harbor at the onset of World War II.

McGeehan had said at the banquet that Salzarulo’s wife and daughter, who live in New Mexico and Arizona, respectively, were unable to attend, but he expressed appreciation on behalf of the family for the tribute.

The other dinner honoree was Perito, a sergeant in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division who was killed by a land mine on Sept. 2, 1970, at the age of 21. He is memorialized through a monument established at Follansbee Park by a group of his friends,

Manchin had said at the event that the dedication of the two men is typical of the people of West Virginia, which he said has the highest percentage of veterans of all of the states. He added the state’s National Guard also has been rated the best in recruitment and readiness.

Manchin told the story of having been among a group of governors visiting troops in Iraq and having been told by commanding officers there that troops from the Mountain State exhibit a high level of determination they would like to see in all service members.

Noting that West Virginia has been the brunt of many jokes, Manchin had said at the dinner that whenever he heard such talk, he would tell the speaker, “Let me tell you where I am from because evidently, you don’t know.” Manchin said he then would share details of the state’s tradition of military service, and he encouraged those attending the Community Days Dinner to do likewise.

Manchin and Paesano presented several items to the families of the two men. They included certificates expressing gratitude for the men’s military service, Make a Difference Awards established by Paesano in recognition of those who have made a significant difference in the lives of others and keys to the city.

The families then were invited to serve as marshals for the Follansbee Community Days Parade that year.

Salzarulo’s remains were eventually returned to the United States, and he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, according to Nevin, who lives in Shelbyville, Mich., and has worked for Packaging Corporation of America for the past 27 years.

“I travel frequently visiting our plants throughout the United States,” she said. “My family has been very active with military organizations, and I am a member of the American Legion Auxiliary, Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary and a life member of the AMVETS auxiliary.”

“Although I do not know Ray Salzarulo or the family, I am sure it will have meaning for someone and provide a memento,” she said.

“It will serve a greater purpose versus sitting in my jewelry box.”

Nevin can be contacted by phone at (517) 402-6679 or by e-mail at lnevin@packagingcorp.com or mishopper10@gmail.com.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)