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From The Advocate: October 15, 2000

The Stamford Advocate, 15/10/00 - Their friendship was forged by war, and the relationship between Stamford attorney Frank LiVolsi and pop star Nancy Sinatra has stood the test of time.

They were an unlikely pair. He was a captain in the U.S. Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. She was topping the charts with hits such as "These Boots are Made for Walkin' " and "Somethin' Stupid" with her father, Frank.

Yet they have remained in contact since first meeting in Saigon in February 1967. They were reunited yesterday in a ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans at Norwalk's Veterans Memorial Park.

LiVolsi, 62, was instrumental in bringing Sinatra to Norwalk for this weekend's visit of the half-size traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial known as "The Healing Wall" that bears the names of the 58,220 servicemen and women who were killed or are missing in action in Vietnam.

The two became friends in Vietnam after LiVolsi drew the plum assignment of serving as Sinatra's escort officer during her three-week USO tour. During her stay, Sinatra performed before more than 100,000 troops. Because of her ongoing support for veterans, many view her as one of them.

Yesterday, Sinatra was in Norwalk to participate in a "Tribute to America" ceremony at the wall.

Sinatra said she is overcome by emotion each time she sees the memorial. "You can never come away from it without feeling something," she said. "My heart still breaks."

The wall isn't only to remember the dead, Sinatra said. It is also a reminder of the men and women who are still missing in action and those who suffered devastating injuries during the war, she said.

It is also time to give the Vietnam veterans a proper welcome home, said Sinatra, who wore a leather vest given to her by the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club for her participation in their annual Operation Rolling Thunder parade of motorcycles from Arlington National Cemetery to The Pentagon.

LiVolsi said Sinatra was happy to be part of yesterday's ceremony. "When I asked her six months ago, she didn't even hesitate," LiVolsi said during an interview at his downtown Stamford office last week. "She said 'OK, I'll do it' immediately."

Sinatra, who recently has been lobbying for a National Music Museum in Washington, D.C., and planning the commissioning of a statue of her father in New York, said she usually participates in two Vietnam veterans events each year. This year, Sinatra, 60, intends to prove that her boots are still made for walkin' when she serves as grand marshal of a Veterans Day parade in San Francisco next month.

Though LiVolsi and Sinatra continued to write to each other following the war, the two lost touch as the years passed. They were reunited in 1993 when LiVolsi ran for mayor of Stamford and Sinatra attended the opening of his campaign headquarters.

Since then, they have remained in touch by exchanging Christmas cards and getting together for special occasions, which included his special invitation to the Playboy Club in New York to celebrate her pictorial in the magazine in 1995.

LiVolsi also was on hand two years ago in Los Angeles as a surprise special guest when the Vietnam Veterans of America honored Sinatra for her work.

"I lost him for a while, but we've found each other again," Sinatra said.

LiVolsi served as a tank commander during his one-year tour of duty in Vietnam and said he and Sinatra share a special bond forged by the war.

"She was the only good thing that came out of Vietnam," LiVolsi said.

During her high-profile stay in Vietnam, Sinatra flew from base to base in helicopter gunships. At night there was also the constant danger of the bases coming under shelling from mortar attacks.

"I look back at it, and I think 'we took a couple of risks,'" LiVolsi said, noting that as Sinatra's escort he was charged with ensuring her safety during her high-profile stay. "I was nuts. What would her father have said?"

Sinatra also agreed to tour hospitals where LiVolsi said she was exposed to dangerous contagions. It was an emotionally gut-wrenching tour, he recalled.

"I remember one incident when we were at a kid's bedside," LiVolsi said. "He was smiling and happy to meet Nancy. He asked if she could shift the pillow under his leg, and when she lifted the blanket, there was no leg."

On a whim, Sinatra also agreed to a U.S. Navy request to fly to the USS Kittyhawk in the South China Sea on her day off to meet sailors on board the aircraft carrier.

"The experience we shared together in Vietnam, it's like a bond you have with your buddies," LiVolsi said. "When you see them for the first time in years, it's like you never separated. There's a certain bond as a result of sharing such an experience."

Sinatra called LiVolsi her closest friend from the war and said she is glad to have him back in her life.

"We spent 24 hours a day over there together," Sinatra said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without Frank. It would have been just too scary."

Healing the memories of Vietnam

October 15, 2000


As TAPS played to end a ceremony Saturday at the Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall at Veterans Park in Norwalk, a petite Nancy Sinatra, wearing a black leather vest covered with war patches, wiped tears from her eyes.

The memories still haunt and grip her heart.

"My whole generation was involved in it," said Sinatra, daughter of the late entertainer Frank Sinatra. "They were either there or running from it. I couldn't just sit home and do nothing."

So Sinatra, who was about 25 and just made a hit record, "These boots were made for walking," took off for Vietnam in February 1967.

For three weeks, the beautiful blonde with a heart of gold, as some veterans remembered her, entertained troops once or twice a day and visited field hospitals where soldiers lay.

"Some boys had no arms and no legs," she said. "You don't forget things like that."

While all wars have heroes and dead soldiers, Sinatra said Vietnam was different due to the discord at home when the soldiers returned.

She was one of many guests invited to a ceremony at the Wall that Heals -- a half-size replica of the Vietnam Wall that stands in Washington D.C. The visiting wall, organized by the Fairfield County Healing Wall Committee, came to Norwalk Thursday and leaves today.

John LaBarca of WICC served as master of ceremonies for the event.

Stamford High School Band performed while the Massing of the Colors came with several color guards with numerous flags. Mayor Frank Esposito, Police Chief Harry Rilling, Fire Chief James Varga and U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, State Rep. Alex Knopp attended the ceremony. The Rev. Paul Teske from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Westport and the Rev. Paul C. Murphy of St, Luke Parish in Westport gave the benediction.

Command Sgt. Major Ted Perry, who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm, as well as retired Marine Corps.

Col. Harvey Barnum, who received a Medal of Honor in Vietnam, the highest honor, told a crowd of about 800 to remember their freedom came at a cost and that the soldiers did not lose the war.

"We might have gotten our noses a little bloodied but we did what we were supposed to do," he said. The "gutless politicians" and leaders of the time lost the war, he said.

And he noted how communism crumbled, which the war must have sparked, starting with the Berlin Wall falling in the late 1980s.

"By god we won," he said, to cheers.

Sinatra told the crowd that the wall represents a variety of ideas.

"This wall is about families," she said. "It's about friends, recognition and respect. It's about memories, pain and sacrifice."

She told the crowd about her memories and the countless stories of soldiers and their families that still bring her to tears.

"It's about we the people making a solemn promise to protect those who protected us," she said. "We can't shun those fighting for our freedom. We have to stand by them and we will."

She closed by thanking the veterans and giving them "a heartfelt welcome home."

Veteran Frank LiVolsi, who is now a Stamford attorney but served as Sinatra's bodyguard when she was in Vietnam, said he remembers "this kid" who was flying high from her new record and "totally sincere" about visiting the troops.

"She was really sincere," he said. "And it was unbelievable how those kids lit up when they saw her. And some kids, who lost limbs and were dying, were so cordial to her and thanking her for being there."

Veteran Sgt. Major Frank Dempsey of the Marine Corps, who now lives in Trumbull, said he remembers Sinatra gathering thousands of Marines, sailors and pilots together.

"It was awesome," he said. "It was morale building."

At the time, the Tet Offensive was underway, which is when "All hell broke loose," Dempsey said. "It's just something you needed to break up the whole thing," he said.

Veteran Steve Wargo, 53, of Stamford, who was on the helicopter rescue squad for the Navy, said Sinatra was simply a "beam of light."

"She gave us a push," he said, "to keep going."

The following essay was written by Congressman Jose Serrano on Veterans Day, November 11, 1997

Subject: Joe Castillo & Indio

What a beautiful sight on the mall today. Joe Castillo and his horse Indio standing tall and at attention. When I arrived , there was a large crowd all along the adjoining area to the Vietnam Veterans war memorial.

You could not miss Joe perched on top of Indio. He was dressed in western clothes and riding gear. In his left hand he held an American flag with dozens of signatures. On the lower end of the large pole there were other unit and Vietnam era flags. Joe's wide hat covered his jet black hair which was long and tied in the back.

And there was Indio, tall strong and still. He stood still in a way that made you feel that he understood the importance of this mission an how much it meant to Joe. They were surrounded by some of the guys that had come from different parts to help them reach their destination.

As I approached them, I was recognized by MT who immediately introduced me to Joe. From on top of Indio, he leaned over and with a big smile greeted me. I told him that he looked great and inquired how he felt. With an even bigger smile and a laugh he said, "I need a bath".

I had brought with me a bound copy of the Congressional Record with a statement by me about Joe Castillo's journey. I think he will enjoy reading it when he gets to settle down a bit. The record speaks about his desire to do what he did today. It also speaks to his dedication and his love for his war buddies.

I was invited to take pictures with Joe and the group that was with him. One of the gentlemen was very gracious in suggesting that I had a lot to to with Joe being there. I guess he was talking about the little bit that my office did in getting the parks service to allow Joe to ride Indio on to the memorial grounds.

I was also interviewed by a reporter from Joe's hometown. I told her how proud we all are of Joe and that I needed to be there so that he could understand that we appreciate his efforts.

All the time that I was there, people came up to Joe and thanked him for having embarked on this journey. People were really glad to see and meet him.

Through it all Indio never moved. His discipline was incredible. He seemed to know the importance of his role in this whole event. I stayed in the area a little longer than an hour before I had to leave. Joe was very thankful and extremely friendly when we said goodbye.

As I left, I began to think about Joe's courage and the courage of his buddies. I felt that he is an honorable man with eternal loyalty. He reminds us all of the fact that we have to begin to see the Vietnam war in a different light.

It does not matter how we felt about our involvement in Vietnam, we have to concentrate on those who served and those who lost their lives. Too often, we Americans, seem to run away from that war and from that time. The Vietnam war will always be a difficult part of our history and we have to learn to accept that.

I think we can all dedicate ourselves to the following: Work to make sure something like Vietnam does not happen again, and at the same time render on to the veterans living and dead the respect, the love and the care they deserve.

Perhaps Joe Castillo will help us concentrate on those who served and not on the politics that got them there.

As I got into my car to drive away, I could not stop thinking about the time I spent in the Army. My training as a medic came to mind. Fort Gordon, Fort Sam, Fort Wainwright, Basset Army Hospital and all of the places I saw. But most of all, I remembered the people I served with.

I am sure that if I had gone through all the names on the wall, I would have found some that I knew.