FLEMINGTON, NJ - A week after Memorial Day, Flemington resident and accomplished armed forces veteran Gene “Agniso” Valentino was honored during the June 2 Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting.
Valentino fought in World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War, and the freeholders commended his honorable service to the nation as they approved a proclamation for the occasion of his 100th birthday, celebrated quietly at home in Flemington this spring during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Valentino received his Master’s License in 1945, working his way up from the ranks of 3rd mate to 2nd mate, then chief mate and up to Captain. He earned medals and bars, such as Combat Medal, Victory Medal, Vietnamese Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Pacific War Zone Medal, Merchant Marine Defense Medal, Middle East War Zone Medal, Philippines Liberation Medal, Atlantic War Zone Medal and Russian Medal.
Valentino served 45 consecutive years, from 1940 through 1985. Upon his retirement from duty in the U.S. armed forces, he received a most well-deserved Honorable Discharge Medal from the U.S. Coast Guard.
“He traveled the world during peacetime to bring goods from one country to another, including Europe, Asia, the Middle East, India, South America, Russia and China,” the proclamation read. “Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders hereby extends its thanks and best wishes to him for his distinguished service, and extends its best wishes to him upon this special occasion.”
Freeholder Director Shaun C. Van Doren was particularly enthusiastic about reading the proclamation, as he detailed Valentino’s participation in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, during the Second World War, as well as his other astonishing military experiences.
“During one of his trips, Gene witnessed an illumination, which was the detonation of the second hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean, at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” Van Doren said. “He and the ship’s quartermaster and another lookout witnessed this event, and Gene called it in to the military’s hydrographics office in Washington, D.C., after which he received a commendation for his reported sighting.”
“During World War II, he took cargo from the U.S. to various ports in England (Bristol, Liverpool, South Hampton, Manchester), Belfast, Ireland and Swansea, Wales,” Van Doren added. “Valentino was also part of the Normandy Invasion on D-Day, where he was part of a convoy of some 30 to 40 ships which traveled from England to France, crossing the English Channel and bringing British troops along with machine guns, canons, various equipment which included rafts and submarine nets bringing aid to France and reaching various beach heads, such as Omaha and Utah,” he added. “It took them about four to five hours to cross the Channel, traveling at a top speed of only 11 knots.”
Deputy Freeholder Director Sue Soloway seconded the motion to approve the proclamation. Soloway, the freeholders’ liaison to the county’s Office on Veterans’ Services (under the Department of Human Services), commented on the remarkable achievements of Valentino in the armed forces and as a local patriot, and noted that his actual 100th birthday came during the height of the pandemic on April 24.
“As I read this proclamation I was deeply moved,” she said. “Mr. Valentino was in three world battles and he served the United States for over 45 years. His service embodies that of true spirit, sacrifice and commitments of the many U.S. veterans who fought. I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr. Valentino a very happy birthday, in addition to saying thank you. He is a true hero who Americans and the world owe so much gratitude to.”
While providing his ‘yes’ vote to the resolution, Freeholder Zach Rich offered similar sentiments for Valentino, saying, “We cannot thank you enough. Happy birthday, sir.”
As a boy, Valentino immigrated to the United States from his family’s home of Casagiova, Italy. Living on Long Island, he attended and graduated from Hempstead High School in central Nassau County, New York, where he was on the school’s football team.
‘Agniso’ graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, in 1942. He married his wife, Martha, in 1945, and they moved to Scotch Plains, New Jersey, in 1961.
In Scotch Plains the couple’s children, Tony and Rita, completed education through high school. Valentino now lives in Flemington.
Van Doren expressed his thanks to Valentino, and said that although the proclamation was read aloud during the teleconference meeting, an in-person presentation, round of picture-taking and gathering at an appropriate time would be planned, hopefully for later in the year.
Soloway said she hopes to see “Agniso” Valentino for the 2020 Veterans’ Ceremony, which takes place annually at the Hunterdon County 4-H Fair at the County fairgrounds in the last week of August.
“I would personally like to invite him because I would like to see all his earned bars and heroic medals up close,” she said. “I hope to see him there, and again wishing him a very happy birthday.”