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Joseph Phillip Bongiorni III
Courtesy First Sergeant (Ret) Joseph Yorski

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Joseph Phillip Bongiorni III

"Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."

Mark Twain

Joseph Phillip Bongiorni III was born on January 30, 1970, to Rita and Joseph Bongiorni II in Hickory, Pennsylvania. Joseph was commonly referred to as "Joey," and he had an older sister Jody. Joey was a quiet, earnest boy who loved to play music and to hike and fish in the Allegheny Mountains in Western Pennsylvania. Joey had another passion in life: the military. "Ever since he was a little boy, Joey wanted to be a soldier," said his mother, Rita Bongiorni. He attended and graduated from Fort Cherry High School in 1989, where he was an honor student. He played defensive end for the Fort Cherry Rangers football team and played trumpet in the school band. ("A Soldier's Story: Sergeant Joseph Phillip Bongiorni III," Everyday Patriot, 18 October 2019, accessed 31 March 2021, At half time, when the other members marched out in red uniforms, there was Joey Bongiorni marching in his muddy jersey and shoulder pads.

The school's principal, Jess King, recalled that he "never gave less than 110 percent in everything he did." His music teacher, Dick Burns, said that Joey "used to have a little trouble with the high notes," but would practice for hours at a time in the band room. "I think he liked music for the same reason he liked the military," Mr. Burns said. "It was the discipline of the thing." ("Bongiorni, Joseph, III, SGT," TogetherWeServed, accessed 31 March 2021,

Hickory, Pennsylvania, is a small town 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, where Joey's father worked at a steel mill and eventually retired from there. Joey graduated from high school in 1989 and immediately joined the U.S. Army Reserves. His parents wanted Joey to go to college, so he enrolled at West Virginia University and majored in civil engineering. He was also active in the ROTC program at WVU. He was only at WVU for a short time before he was called to serve overseas.

On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein led a well-equipped Iraqi army into Kuwait, a major supplier of oil to the United States. The U.S. had supplied Iraq with military aid during its eight-year war with Iran, giving Iraq the fourth-largest army in the world at that time. This posed a threat to Saudi Arabia, another major exporter of oil. If Saudi Arabia fell, Iraq would control one-fifth of the world's oil supply. The Iraqi leader also was repeatedly violating United Nations (U.N.) resolutions, so the U.S. had U.N. support in responding to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The coalition forces from 35 nations were led by the United States against Iraq. More than 500,000 American troops deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield in case Iraqi troops attacked Saudi Arabia. On January 17, 1991, Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm, backed by public support after diplomacy failed.

Operation Desert Storm was the first major foreign crisis for the United States since the end of the Cold War. Desert Storm became the largest air campaign since the conflict in Southeast Asia (Vietnam). The U.S. and 40 allied nations, including several Arab nations, flew more than 18,000 air deployment missions, more than 116,000 combat air sorties, and dropped 88,500 tons of bombs. After air attacks that lasted for six weeks, the ground campaign lasted only 100 hours before Kuwait was liberated. (Shannon Collins, "Desert Storm: A Look Back," U.S. Dept. of Defense, 11 January 2019, accessed 31 March 2021,

Sgt. Bongiorni was a 77W (Water Treatment Specialist) and was assigned to the 14th Quartermaster Detachment, 99th Army Reserve Command (99th ARCOM). The 14th Quartermaster Detachment is a U.S. Army Reserve Water Purification Unit that is stationed in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. On January 15, 1991, the 14th Quartermaster Detachment was mobilized for deployment to support Operation Desert Storm. Three days later the unit arrived at Fort Lee, Virginia, to conduct intensive mobilization training in preparation for deployment to Saudi Arabia. For the next 30 days, detachment soldiers trained 18 hours a day on the Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU) water purification system and common soldier tasks. The unit, augmented by 35 filler personnel from other active Army and Reserve units, arrived in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on February 19, 1991. The detachment's soldiers were quartered in a warehouse that had been converted to a temporary barracks. There they waited for the arrival of unit equipment and movement to a field support location.

The webpage of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment details the unfolding of the attack, as well as the ceremony/monument dedicated to the Detachment's loss:

At 8:40 pm (12:40 pm EST) on February 25, 1991, parts of an Iraqi Al Hussein Scud missile destroyed the barracks housing members of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment. The failure of the Patriot Air Defense System in tracking the Scud missile over Dhahran was provoked by a shift in the range gate of the radar, due to the continuous use of the software for more than 100 hours without resetting. The radar initially detected the incoming Scud, but lost track of the Al-Hussein when the system failed to predict its new position. In the single, most devastating attack on U.S. forces during that war, 28 soldiers died and 99 were wounded. The 14th Quartermaster Detachment lost 13 soldiers and suffered 43 wounded. Casualties were evacuated to medical facilities in Saudi Arabia and Germany.

No community suffered a greater loss during Operation Desert Storm than Greensburg, a Southwestern Pennsylvania town of 18,000 near Pittsburgh. Once word of the attack reached Pennsylvania, the 99th Army Reserve Command (ARCOM), parent unit of the 14th, began a 24-hour-a-day vigil at the Greensburg Reserve Center to assist family members in their pain and grief. The 99th ARCOM and the 1st Army set up a casualty assistance center in town, manned with chaplains, counselors, social workers, and representatives from several federal agencies. They also assisted family members with visits to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Local citizens unselfishly volunteered to assist in these efforts. Joseph's sister, Jody, said, "It was and is still very painful, and I remember the morning they knocked on our door to tell us Joey was one of the soldiers that lost their life. Joey wrote letters each day he was there, and my mom still has them along with a scrapbook I made for our future children."

Pennsylvania's governor declared a week of mourning and ordered flags on all state buildings to be lowered to half-staff. A community memorial service was held on March 2, 1991. Over 1,500 citizens attended, filling the First Presbyterian Church and its adjoining grounds. Local ministers, the mayor, the Governor of Pennsylvania, and the Secretary of the Army honored the members of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment killed in the missile attack.

"They were all of us," said Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, "a high school football star, a lover of country music, future homemakers of America, secretaries and salesmen, hunters and fishermen, postal workers and volunteer firemen, friends and lovers, fathers, sons, brothers, and two of our daughters." Bright yellow ribbons decorated the windows of homes and stores in Greensburg, but there were also black ribbons and wreaths lining the streets in remembrance of the 13 soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their country.

On the one year anniversary of this devastating loss, February 25, 1992, a monument to the 14th Quartermaster Detachment was dedicated at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Greensburg, Pennsylvania; the monument remembers and honors Joseph Bongiorni and the 12 other service members of the Detachment. The monument was made possible by the outpouring of generosity of community members and donations from around the country. The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Gordon R. Sullivan gave the keynote address and assisted in unveiling the monument. Remarks were given by numerous dignitaries to include Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey; Senator Arlen Specter; Senator Harris Wofford; Congressman John Murtha; Major General James Baylor, Commander, 99th Army Reserve Command; and members of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment.

The monument consists of a horizontal granite slab as a base, upon which rests three vertical granite stones weighing a total of 12,000 pounds. Perched proudly atop the center pillar is a cast bronze bald eagle. Etched in the center pillar is the emblem of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, preceded by the following quotes:

In honor of the men and women of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment who served both God and country loyally in Operation Desert Storm...

I have seen in your eyes a fire of determination to get this job done quickly so that we may return to the shore of our great country. My confidence in you is total, our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. (General Norman Schwarzkopf)

There are 69 names of the Detachment soldiers who deployed to Saudi Arabia that are featured on two bronze plaques on the front of the right and left stones. On the rear of the left stone is an etching of a female soldier's hands holding the American flag. On the rear of the right stone, an etched map of the Persian Gulf, indicating the locations of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

To the left front of the monument is an actual size bronze casting of the boots, M-16 rifle, and helmet, symbolic of the fallen soldier. To the right front are two life-size cast bronze figures, a kneeling male and a standing female in desert battle-dress uniforms, reflecting on the loss of their comrades.

On the cement wall surrounding the monument is a bronze plaque listing the names of the 28 soldiers killed in action. Behind the concrete wall are three flagpoles bearing the flags of the United States, Pennsylvania, and the United States Army. Behind the monument are 13 hemlock trees, the Pennsylvania state tree, planted as a living tribute to the 13 soldiers of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment who lost their lives in the war. The monument faces 90o due east, toward Saudi Arabia. ("Iraqi SCUD Missile Attack," 14th Quartermaster Detachment, accessed 31 March 2021,

The New York Times offered a full account of the attack on the day following. (R. W. Apple Jr., "War in the Gulf: Scud Attack; Scud Missile Hits a U.S. Barracks Killing 27," The New York Times, 26 February 1991, accessed 31 March 2021,

Sgt. Joseph Bongiorni's final resting place is in Mount Prospect Cemetery in Hickory, Pennsylvania. He will always be remembered and honored at the 14th Quartermaster Detachment Reserve Center in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He is also memorialized by having his name inscribed on the West Virginia Veterans Memorial located in Charleston, West Virginia.
USS <i>Iwo Jima</i> (LPH-2). National Archives and Records Administration photo (NAID) 6348975

USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2). National Archives and Records Administration photo (NAID) 6348975

Article prepared by Noah Spence and Cade Graham , George Washington High School JROTC
March 2021


West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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