He was a slender, freckle-faced lad of 20 when he – like so many others – shipped off as an Army Pfc. to fight in South Vietnam, mostly with the 1st Cavalry Division.
And, only several weeks later, he was yet another tragic casualty to be included on an ever-increasing list of KIAs, having been shot in the head, most likely by a Vietcong sniper.
This past Saturday, on the 50th anniversary of his death, the Township of Belleville unveiled a new street sign, designating John M. Hoar Way at the intersection of Dow and Cleveland Sts., just in front of his boyhood home.
Despite the bitter wintry chill, dozens of well-wishers, including municipal officials, local veterans, police and family members, turned out for the brief ceremony before adjourning to American Legion Post 70 for refreshments.
Councilman Kevin Kennedy, who organized the event with assistance from Tom Grolimond, chairman of the Belleville Historic Commission, and Anthony Buccino, military historian, said the township has identified 157 Belleville veterans who died in service to their country during WWI and II, Korea and Vietnam, including three killed in peacetime.
It is the township’s intent, Kennedy said, to honor all of them in future with similar ceremonial street-namings. Vietnam War veteran Pfc. Donald Saunders of High St. was the first to be so memorialized and seven others (WWII veterans Sgt. William Hamilton, Sgt. Carmen Olivio and Vietnam veterans Army Spec. 4 Raymond DeLuca and Staff Sgt. Clatie Ray Cunningham Jr.) have had streets named for them in the Essex Park development.
To date, Kennedy said, the township has addresses attached to 60 veterans’ names “so we’re ready to go with those.” For the rest, he said, “we’re reaching out to the families of the other deceased veterans in hopes of getting the rest [of the addresses].”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Grolimond at his email: email@example.com.
North Arlington resident Bob Hoar, John’s brother, who attended the ceremony with John’s sister Mary Beth, said he was “flabbergasted” by Sunday’s turnout despite the frigid weather and expressed the family’s gratitude for the tribute.
He recalled John’s determination to shine in sports, both in baseball as an All-Star shortstop in the Bergen County Little League program and in track, setting records in short-distance dashes in CYO meets at the old Sussex Ave. Armory.
John left high school a year early to enter the workforce, tackling jobs at Eastern Tool and Sun Chemical before enlisting, his brother said.
At the Legion post hall, boyhood pal Richard Sibello recalled serving as one of the six pallbearers who carried John’s casket into St. Peter’s Church – where they had attended the parish school – for John’s Solemn High Mass of Requiem.
“The other fellows were Eddie Winkowski, Wayne Alling, Billy Alexander, Bob Forchesta and Bob Gregory,” he recalled. “John got full military honors. We stood guard [on a rotation shift] over the coffin for 24 hours.”
Sibello said he’d been drafted a few months after his buddy and was home on leave from advanced training at Fort Bliss in Texas when he learned that John had been killed. Sibello’s battery commander in Texas granted him extended leave to take part in the funeral arrangements.
Growing up, Sibello said, “I lived in Newark, just south of the [Second River] bridge, and John and I used to meet at the corner [of Dow and Cleveland] and, from there, we walked up the hill to [St. Peter’s] school.”
“John was a sweet kid. Never any trouble,” he said.
Just as close to John during the early years was Kathy (Ricotta) Muraca. “John and I were best friends,” she said. “I lived on Washington Ave. near Dow. We liked going to the bowling alley and we all hung around Mike’s candy store at Washington and William St. and, before that, Torchy’s sandwich shop.”
While he was overseas, Kathy and John kept up a steady correspondence. “I tried to keep his spirits up,” she said.
“The day they delivered the telegram to his family that he was killed,” Kathy said, “that was the day I got his last letter.”
For the 36th anniversary of John’s death, his Unit Commander Dean Knox wrote a testimonial recalling the circumstances leading to the tragedy. It happened during “a helicopter assault at last light [and it] was the first night assault conducted by this new Division of the Army and the assault was conducted by the soldiers of the unit perfectly.
“ … We were immediately taken under intense fire by an estimated battalion of the enemy. The battle was fierce but we did not budge. Sometime during the night John was wounded but it was impossible to get him med-evacted because of hostile fire.
“He died of his wounds early in the morning of 13 February as did a number of his friends and comrades.
“I can say that after all these years, my emotions are still uncontrolled when I recall the fine young men who gave their lives doing their duty.
“Like those killed on 9/11, all were heroes in their own right and live in my heart.
“Rest in peace John. We will meet again.”