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Bonita Springs veteran recounts lessons learned from decades of service

Naples Daily News logo Naples Daily News 11/10/2019 Andrew Atkins, Naples Daily News
a man looking at the camera: Col. Vincent Fazio (Ret.) shows a photo of a B-52D bomber he flew during his service with the U.S. Air Force, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, at his home in Bonita Springs. © Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA Col. Vincent Fazio (Ret.) shows a photo of a B-52D bomber he flew during his service with the U.S. Air Force, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, at his home in Bonita Springs.

A photo in Vince Fazio’s collection says a lot about his service to the United States.

The black-and-white portrait from Fazio’s time in the Air Force shows various honors and medals adorning the breast of his uniform. His partner, Jan Jarrett, retrieved it from the basement, where Fazio had it hanging on the wall to “keep the rats out.”

Fazio, like so many veterans, is slow to take credit for his service to country. Veterans Day is Monday.

“I’m sure every other combat veteran will tell you the same thing: we all went out there and did our job,” he said.

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a man wearing a suit and tie: Col. Vincent S. Fazio (Ret.), a career Air Force pilot shows an old portrait of himself in uniform,Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 at his home in Bonita Springs. © Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA Col. Vincent S. Fazio (Ret.), a career Air Force pilot shows an old portrait of himself in uniform,Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 at his home in Bonita Springs.

Fazio stayed humble, but others like neighbor Robert Cameron are quick to point out that a humble attitude is telling.

“When you hear that, you know you’ve got the real heroes,” Cameron said. “Vince is a true hero.”

Jarrett said it explicitly: “He’s my hero.”

a man standing in a room: Vince Fazio and his partner Jan Jarrett pose for a portrait Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 at their home in Bonita Springs. Fazio served as a Colonel in the United States Air Force. © Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA Vince Fazio and his partner Jan Jarrett pose for a portrait Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 at their home in Bonita Springs. Fazio served as a Colonel in the United States Air Force.

Fazio retired a full colonel after 23 years of service in the Air Force. Among his many achievements from his service between 1954 and 1977: more than 6,000 hours of flight time, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Bronze Star.

Further achievements include raising four boys with his wife of 63 years, Nancy, whom Fazio lost several years ago.

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Fazio, an Ohio native, served during the Cold War, including in Vietnam. He recounted his participation in Operation Chrome Dome, during which he said he patrolled the border of the Soviet Union in a bomber carrying nuclear weapons, ready to retaliate at any nuclear aggression.

His experience in the armed forces shaped his attitude toward life.

“When something unusual happens, you have to make a big adjustment,” he said. “You can’t ever give up.”

Now 88, Fazio is taking his own advice. Rather than sit back and enjoy a quiet retirement, he hasn’t quit serving the community. He’s part of a committee that organizes an annual Veterans Day golf tournament for the Pelican’s Nest Golf Club.

The proceeds from the annual golf tournament go toward Home Base, a partnership between the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital. It assists veterans with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and related conditions.

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Home Base has a Southwest Florida arm as the Red Sox conduct spring training in Lee County. Last year, Cameron said the combined Veteran’s Day golf tournament, raffle and silent auction raised about $160,000, which was donated to Home Base.

Fazio volunteers, he said, because he can remember flying missions home delivering the bodies of soldiers who died in combat.

a man wearing a striped shirt and looking at the camera: Air Force veteran Col. Vince Fazio (Ret.) poses for a portrait, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 at his home in Bonita Springs. Fazio, a career Air Force officer, served as a bomber pilot during the Vietnam War. © Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA Air Force veteran Col. Vince Fazio (Ret.) poses for a portrait, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 at his home in Bonita Springs. Fazio, a career Air Force officer, served as a bomber pilot during the Vietnam War.

And on Veterans Day in particular, he starts noticing little reminders of his service.

“I get in contact with all my old buddies,” he said. “It’s great to hear from all of them.”

Veterans Day is special to Fazio because he sees the gratitude of the community.

“It’s nice to see the American people appreciate the service,” he said.

If you asked him, he’d tell you: he’d do it all again.

“I couldn’t have had a better life,” Fazio said.

Andrew Atkins is a Naples Daily News features reporter. Contact him via email at andrew.atkins@naplesnews.com or on Twitter at @andrewjatkins.

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Bonita Springs veteran recounts lessons learned from decades of service

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