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24954 Serio, Robert Frank
September 05, 1942 - April 17, 1968

Robert Frank Serio   

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Personal Eulogy

John Ward's Directory Entry

On the first day, Bob thought he heard from the Poop deck, “Italians, RISE!” He did not cease to work on that command for four years. His positive and aggressive nature and his genuine ability are reflected in everything he touches. You can disagree with the man but you can neither deny him nor refute him.

~ USMA 1964 Howitzer

Another couple who suffered the tragedy of losing their only child was Janette and Bob Serio, whose son, Bob, or Bobby, as he was usually called, was mortally wounded on 17 April 1968 during the Tet counteroffensive in Vietnam. That was just a little over three months after Kirby Wilcox’s death and a little less than three months before Mike Nawrosky’s.

Young Bobby was born and raised in the Bronx where he attended the first six grades at P.S. 21 and the last six at Mount Saint Michael. His mother reports that, as a youngster, he was a typical boy with lots of friends and all the same loveable traits and also the shortcomings that all people possess. In high school he really began to bloom academically and athletically, as he won numerous trophies with the debating team and the track and field team. At one of the track meets, his team’s javelin thrower was sick, and so as not to forfeit the event, the coach asked Bob to fill in. He did so and took the first place trophy.

Bob was valedictorian of his high school graduating class of over 300 students. He received several college scholarship offers but turned them all down—his only desire was to attend West Point. In the Extempore Speech contest held in Washington, D.C., in 1959 Bob placed third in the nation. His ability to think on his feet was again evident a few years later when he was a member of the prestigious Debate Council and Forum at the Military Academy.

Not having any brothers or sisters to grow up with, Bob became very close to his cousins in the neighborhood. Rita Caldararo, five years older than Bob, remembers him as a smart and beautiful little boy with gorgeous curly hair. At eight months of age he could recite his first and last names. Although he was an only child, he was not spoiled, he was a regular guy who was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humor. One Thanksgiving the entire family got together at the famous restaurant, Mama Leone’s, where the doorman was dressed as a pilgrim for the occasion. When one of the aunts commented that the doorman must have been an Italian peasant since it was an Italian restaurant, Rita recalls that she and Bob almost died laughing and she frequently reminisces about that moment. She also fondly remembers her many visits with her husband and children to West Point during Bob’s cadet days, including the day he entered and the day he graduated. She was often pregnant during those visits, and Bob had to help push her up the hills as they walked from place to place. She said, “When I had my fifth child, Bobby told me I went from a skinny kid to the strongest one in the family.” Later Rita was to lament, “Bobby was taken away from us too early. He would have succeeded in anything he would have pursued in life.”

Ken Tirella and Bob were very close in age and very close in almost everything they did while growing up. Fun was their first priority as they engaged in sports, fishing, crabbing, Lionel trains, and dating. They spent their hot summer vacations playing stickball, swimming, or just sitting around on the corner talking and playing cards. Bob and Ken also worked together in a supermarket where they shared lots of laughs and fun. They both were pranksters. One year when Bob came home for Christmas from West Point, Ken greeted him with a very short, cadet-style haircut. Bob countered by surprising him with a large, beautifully wrapped Christmas gift. Ken almost fell over when he opened it and found a long blonde wig inside.

The two cousins would often go up to West Point on weekends to see the parades and football games. Ken nostalgically reflects on Bob: “He felt the need and pride to serve his country. Just before he was to leave for Vietnam he came to visit us at our apartment. We had a son then. I didn’t know this would be our last time together. Till this day I still have an empty bottle in my refrigerator in which we mixed a couple of drinks. When the news of Bobby’s death came I can’t express the sorrow I felt—also the sorrow for my aunt and uncle who raised such a great son that anyone would be proud of.”

As a cadet Bob excelled in every area. “Beast Barracks” was a challenge which he readily accepted, but he was shocked at the vast difference in his new life as a plebe and his old life just a few miles down the road. In fact, the thought often occurred to him that it would be very easy to hop on one of the many trains that passed through the academy grounds and be home in less than an hour. But, as with the other New Yorkers, it was only a thought. After the first skimpy meal on 5 July 1960 the command “Battalions rise!” was given. For the longest time Bob was convinced that the command was “Italians rise!” He didn’t encounter many problems at West Point, though, and by the time graduation arrived he was a cadet captain, the adjutant of the second regiment, and was marked thirty-fourth in the class. Bob was also a stalwart of the Debate Council and Forum and the Rugby Club. Rigby teammate Bill Jackman said, “While I was a grubby ‘scrumdog,’ Bobby played on the 3/4 line, the handsome running back who scored all the points, never got dirty and won all the girls. … This image fits Bobby to a ‘T,’ though he was never vain about it, and his natural leadership skills showed themselves on the rugby pitch just as they did as a cadet and officer.”

Another good friend of Bob’s in the class was a fellow Bronxite, Art Kelly. The two would often ride home together as their parents took turns doing the driving. Both were bright and strong-willed and frequently engaged in deep-heated discussions about religion, the army, and other areas of contention. However, if the two of them were facing the rest of the world, LOOK OUT! Art cites an example: “Since we both validated Plebe English we ended up in the same section of advanced English that year. We were in class one day discussing some heroic tale from literature—something to do with the forces of good and evil and man’s attempt to overcome the dark side. Bob and I got into a HEATED argument with some of our classmates (remember, we both had strong New York accents at the time) and finally the instructor called the whole group to attention by screaming, ‘GENTLEMEN!’ He then looked at Bob and me and said, ‘I can just see you two in a bar in the Bronx with broken bottles in your hands—this is not the way to do this.’ Bob and I had many a chuckle over that—since it had been obvious to us that the other guys were all wrong and, of course, since they would not listen to calm reason the answer was to ‘go at it.’ (Of course, we were plebes and our training had not yet taken.)”

About eight years later, a few months after Bob’s death, Art and his wife, Michele, were at West Point visiting Art’s brother who later graduated in 1970. Art recalls the event: “As Michele, my brother, and I were walking along Thayer Road we met Bob’s folks and a young lady. Now I knew that prior to going to Vietnam he had been engaged but had not wanted to be married until he returned. I also understood that she had wanted to be married before he left. (Keep that in mind as the story unfolds.) His folks were glad to see me, as I was to see them. They introduced us to his fiancée and I introduced them to my wife and brother. After the usual pleasantries they told me that they had just come from visiting Bob’s grave. Then it hit me. ‘I was not an only child—here was my six-foot-two brother in his gray uniform standing there as they—his parents who had no other children—asked me how my folks were.’ And an even worse thought was that I already had had one son before I left for Vietnam and here was his fiancée who would never have his children. What would it have mattered if it had been me instead of him who had not come home? What a sense of loss and waste rolled over me. It was all I could do to finish the conversation. That was the last time I saw his folks but I have never forgotten that meeting.”

After graduation Bob spent part of his 1964 summer on the beach in Ocean City, New Jersey. Steve Weisel was there too, and provided the following: “There were about six of us from the class who rented a beach house for a month. Needless to say, after our four years of semi-confinement, we had a blast. What I remember most is that Bob Serio was the unquestionable leader of the group. I hadn’t known him very well as a cadet, but in that short amount of time it was clear that he was a natural leader. He didn’t scream and boss people around—he just had an awareness, a calmness, and a knack of taking charge. The rest of us looked up to him with admiration and respect. There was no doubt in any of our minds that Bob would reach the highest levels of army leadership. It’s a real shame that he never got the opportunity.”

Bob’s first career assignment was in Germany with the Third Battalion, Thirty-second Armor of the Third Armored Division. From there he attended the Tank Leaders Course at the Armor School, after which he assumed command of Company A, First Battalion, Sixty-third Armor at Fort Riley, Kansas. Another company commander in the unit was old rugby buddy, Bill Jackman, who recalls: “Bobby and I became much closer in early 1967 when we both found ourselves, fresh-faced captains, commanding companies in the 1 / 63 Armor. The Big Red One (First Infantry Division) had already deployed to Vietnam and our tank battalion was to follow later. But first we had to receive the brand-new M551 Sheridan (a light tank) ...and conduct the final troop test on it prior to our unit deployment. We had the entire post virtually to ourselves. Bobby and I had a friendly rivalry as to which one of our two companies was the best in the battalion. Luckily, it was one of his Sheridans which sank during a river-crossing so I could haze him unmercifully. Despite a positive article which Bobby wrote for Armor magazine, the Sheridan was declared not ready for combat (it later found a home in the Eighty-second Airborne Division), our battalion was taken off the deployment list and our soldiers were ‘levied’ to go to Vietnam as individual replacements. Bobby and I clamored to be released from the battalion so we could go to Vietnam. I left Fort Riley in August and never saw Bobby again. He left later and was killed approximately one month after arrival in Vietnam. Our old unit escorted his remains from arrival in California to burial.

“Bobby had that star quality about him, of which I am reminded every time I visit his grave at West Point. It also brings into very personal and direct focus words I have heard from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War veterans: ‘War is an indiscriminate killer and we are nothing more than fortunate survivors.’”

In June 1978 at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Colonel Thomas W. Kelly, the 194th Armored Brigade Commander, made the following remarks as he conducted the ceremony dedicating Serio Hall and Serio Park (Bob had been then Major Kelly’s assistant operations officer before taking command of A Troop, First Squadron, Fourth Cavalry five days before his death): “We name this building today to honor a superb young man... but in a larger sense to honor all our fallen comrades from all our wars... I was with him then and had given him the order that committed his troops to the battle. An aero rifle infantry platoon had been inserted into a patch of jungle along a rice paddy. ... Immediately upon debarking the aircraft, the infantry was ambushed and received a withering fire causing heavy casualties, pinning them down. ... Without relief they would have been annihilated. … Captain Serio immediately rallied his forces and moved them ten miles to the location of the friendly infantry unit, where his unit was confronted by the enemy’s devastating fire. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Captain Serio positioned his vehicle at the point of contact where he could best control the action of his elements. He personally directed each vehicle into a strategic position between the pinned-down infantry unit and the enemy force, and chose a secured landing zone to be utilized by helicopters evacuating the wounded. After securing the friendly force’s positions, he assigned each platoon a sector of fire and began an attack which routed the enemy from their bunkers and entrenched positions, thus saving the lives of his brothers in the infantry. As the enemy broke contact, his track received a direct hit from an enemy rocket-propelled grenade and Captain Serio was mortally wounded. For his valor in this close combat against numerically superior hostile forces, he was awarded the Silver Star, posthumously. ‘Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for the life of a friend.’

"I was then, as I am now, convinced that Bob Serio would have risen to the very highest levels of the military and he was my personal choice for future chief of staff of the army. ... Those of us who knew, respected, and loved Bob will always remember him as a tower of strength and a shining example to be emulated, but more importantly, he touched us and we knew he passed our way."

~ Fallen Warriors The West Point Class of 1964 by John Murray

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