You might say Santo Graziano was born into the U.S. Army. His father was a Commander in the Army and was stationed in Italy during World War II, where he met and married an Italian girl, and young Santo was born. After graduating from college, Graziano and his brother decided to follow in their father’s footsteps and joined the military; Santo opting for the Army and his brother joining the Air Force. “I wanted to do something different in my life and felt that the military would give me that experience,” Graziano says.
What he didn’t expect was Vietnam. Graziano’s daughter Carol, who nominated him as a Grand Marshal, says while she was growing up he was not able to speak about his experience during his service, and it is only more recently that he has begun to talk about that time. “He shared one story that some nights he would be sleeping with rats the size of cats,” she relates, “and how he would have shrapnel flying past him and usually would never get a good night’s sleep.”
It is clear – and understandable – that Graziano prefers not to relive his time in Vietnam. “Trying to explain why the Vietnam War was okay is a struggle,” he admits. “Too many people died. This was a very hard time for anyone to make sense of the situation.”
Graziano spent two years in active service and another year in the Reserves, and earned a number of medals, including the Bronze Star, National Defense Service, Overseas Service, Army Commendation and Vietnam Service.
The veteran says the most important lesson he learned during his time in Vietnam is how lucky we are to live in the United States. “We take for granted the little things that we have and other countries don’t have, like flushing toilets,” Graziano says. “Most of Vietnam at that time did not have any plumbing.”
It is also clear that being in the service taught Graziano the importance of giving back. “Volunteer work is what I take pride in,” he admits. He started the Food for the Poor Project through the Knights of Columbus, beginning by picking up day-old bread, rolls, cookies, pies and other goodies at one location of what is now Panera Bread. The project has now grown to encompass 60 volunteers gathering leftovers from six different businesses six days a week, with items dropped off at St. Vincent de Paul Becker House to feed the less fortunate. “Many of the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul are veterans,” points out Graziano. “I would say almost 50 percent.”
He is extremely thankful for his wife Joan’s support of the Food for the Poor Project, and for his daughter Carol’s efforts in nominating him as a Grand Marshal. “My father is the humblest person I have ever met and he never gets recognized,” wrote Carol in her nomination. “Even when we go out to eat, he saves the leftovers for someone on the street corner who needs it. He donates his time and money any time he can, and always has a smile on his face.”
We hope you will join us at the 22nd Annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on Monday, November 12, 2017, to see all our Grand Marshals. This year’s parade theme is “OUT OF THE TRENCHES: A Century of Remembrance – WWI 1918.” The parade typically boasts more than 100 entries, and this year will have a special float with nearly 20 Vietnam Veterans riding on it. The parade will also feature patriotic floats, high school marching bands, JROTC marching units, color guards, Veterans Service Organizations, animals, novelty units and much, much more.
For more information on the parade and the parade route, click HERE.