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Richard Rinaldo: Stories of Heroism

Movie theaters will be abuzz this week with the premiere of Hacksaw Ridge, a film that tells the story of the late Desmond Doss, a U.S. Army medic and conscientious objector who enlisted to serve in World War II. Doss is credited for saving the lives of more than 75 comrades, a feat that earned him a Medal of Honor and lifetime membership in the U.S. Legion of Valor.

Inspired by such stories of heroism, the national commander of this elite group, Richard Rinaldo, FCRH ’63, compiled the anthology Courage in Combat: Stories by and about Recipients of the Nation’s Highest Awards. Casemate Publishers will release the book in March 2017.

“Their awards are our nation’s highest military decorations, given to only one in 20,000 combatants,” Rinaldo explained, adding that the Legion of Valor is the oldest military service organization in the country, with only 400 living members. To qualify for membership, individuals must be recipients of the Medal of Honor, a Navy Cross, a Distinguished Service Cross, or an Air Force Cross.

Rinaldo is a retired Army lieutenant colonel who earned a Distinguished Service Cross in 1969 for his heroic service in Vietnam.

He was leading a company of soldiers to take a strategic hilltop when they were attacked by enemy fire. After suffering nine casualties, they secured half the hilltop but were once again under siege, and 17 more soldiers were injured. Though Rinaldo was wounded, he refused medical aid, called for support, and encouraged his company to forge on.

According to Rinaldo, Courage in Combat explores the nature of courage through personal accounts and reflections by and about sergeants, generals, past presidents, paratroopers, aviators, spies, prisoners of war, and candidates for sainthood. He wrote the book to honor the ghosts that surround him all the time.

“Some are real men dying beside me crying for their mothers,” he said. “The sanctity of their memories demands recognition.”

One chapter of the book is an excerpt from Navy Cross recipient Karl Marlantes’ New York Times bestseller, What it Is Like to Go to War. Another is an essay about Vietnam by Navy Cross recipient and politician James Webb. Two Fordham alumni, Father Vincent Capodanno and Philip Conran, are also included in the anthology.

Courage in Combat is Rinaldo’s second book, following Meatballs & Stickball (McNally Jackson, 2012). This self-published anthology explores a different type of camaraderie: growing up in Little Italy in the 1950s. Rinaldo, who now lives in Newport News, Virginia, says it is a tribute to his youth.

“It is always a wonder to go back there and listen to the whispers of the past,” Rinaldo said. “I remember the music of the feasts, the barking iceman, Chinese laundries and linoleum floors, pushcarts and pizza with anchovies.”

He also remembers watching movies at the iconic Bleecker Street Cinema with his buddy from the old neighborhood, Martin Scorsese.

“Even back then, he loved the movies!” Rinaldo recalled.

After graduating from Fordham College at Rose Hill, Rinaldo enrolled at Fordham Law but soon realized that a military career was his calling. Today, he is an active member of the Fordham Veterans Alumni Chapter and the Fordham Southeast Virginia Alumni Chapter, and participates in charitable efforts such as Toys for Tots and social get-togethers. “I really enjoyed the trip to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast two years ago with Fordham Alumni,” Rinaldo said. “Great trip, great folks!”

In addition to receiving Distinguished Service Cross, Rinaldo earned the Legion of Merit, a Purple Heart, and a Bronze Star. He was inducted into the Fordham and New York City ROTC Hall of Fame in 2015, and taught military history at Hofstra University, where he earned a master’s degree.

—Claire Curry


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