Mario doesn’t talk about his Vietnam experience. I’m married to his little sister, Jane, and she told me he doesn’t talk about it, so I’ve never bothered asking.
I know that he served in the Air Force, he was a medic who hated heights but somehow overcame it while jumping out of helicopters into hot zones (to hear Jane tell it). My own feeling is, he was one of the many brave people who did one of the most frightening things imaginable – temporarily sacrificed his personal freedom by putting his life in the hands of government employees and going to war.
Suffice to say, Mario is a very good man who I’m proud to call a brother – in-law or otherwise. I’ve never heard him refer to himself as a patriot. He is spiritual by nature, and definitely hasn’t been a war hawk. He has two great kids, grandkids, lives in California, doesn’t travel very far, so our personal visits have been few and far between.
The other day he called to wish Jane a happy birthday, and as so often happens, he ended up talking with me – what the hell, Jane wasn’t home, so we talked. Mario asked me what I was working on, as he almost always does. At the time, I was writing a story about Bill Bolling, another Vietnam vet who served in the Air Force. Mario seemed captivated.
I told him that Bill had started (and continues to manage) the Atlanta Community Food Bank, that Bill’s commitment to serving a disadvantaged population was motivated decades ago, in large part, by his realization that so many of the homeless people he served were fellow Vietnam veterans – former brothers in arms, as it were.
Bill worked on navigation systems on C-130s that often came under enemy fire in flight, and after fulfilling his four-year commitment became an anti-war activist and embarked on a personal spiritual journey. The thought of a Bill Bolling at war is almost incomprehensible because he is one of the most peaceful souls you’re likely to meet. The same might be said of Mario.
Bill has made it his life’s mission to feed the hungry, and to an extent, house the homeless, and generally improve the lot of humanity on a large scale – the food bank Bill started has inspired the addition of other food banks around the state, and has fed millions of hungry people since opening for business more than 30 years ago.
Mario, who also is actively involved in feeding the hungry through his volunteer work in the Sacramento area, was genuinely impressed and glad I was doing the story.
“We need to read more stories about true heroes,” he said. I think he said it twice. And he used the word “heroes” not to describe a professional athlete or a general or a movie star or politician, but a guy who is trying to eliminate hunger, a guy who is – proudly – a community organizer.
I agree with Mario, Bill Bolling is a genuine hero. And though my brother-in-law wouldn’t claim it for himself, he’s one too. So, per Mario’s suggestion, you’ve just read a story about true heroes.
The Atlanta Community Food Bank and its partners around the state and nation need your heroic efforts. Visit feedingamerica.org to link up with the organizations doing good work in your area. This is the time of year when most food drives happen because the holiday season tends to bring out the most goodwill, and that’s a beautiful thing. But the greatest need for food is actually during the summer, when children are out of school – a very large number of students (about 85 percent) on the free/reduced meals program at school are food insecure during the summer break. So, volunteer or donate when you can.