SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The Plainfields Chapter of UNICO, together with other District X UNICO chapters, recently honored South Plainfield resident Joseph Vella as recipient of the organization’s prestigious Americanism Award. The honor, presented to individuals who have gone ‘above and beyond in their life to help others,’ was presented to Vella during an awards dinner held at the Somerville Elk on Jan. 21.

“Joe has done so many things in his life and has dedicated his whole life to service,” South Plainfield resident Robert Bengivenga, Sr., a member of the Plainfields UNICO and 2nd deputy district governor of District X, said, noting that the local chapter has not given out this particular award in a few years. 

“We feel it should go to someone who has truly earned it. Joe has gone above and beyond and we felt truly deserves the recognition and this honor,” he said. 

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Vella, 98, was born and raised in Elizabeth and following high school enlisted in the military. He served as a chief petty officer with the United States Navy and, during World War II, fought with the fleet in the Okinawa Gunto Campaign, Eniwetok, and Saipan and was awarded the Navy Letter of Commendation for Heroism.

“He spent four years in the Pacific; spending four years in the Navy is one thing, spending four in the Pacific is another because he was there the whole time in combat, planes coming at him, machine guns being fired, bombs going off,” said Bengivenga, adding, “You aren’t just serving your country, you are in a war and a lot of people forget about that and how long it was for these guys.”

Following his active military commitment, Vella went on to serve 37 years in the U.S. Naval Reserves while also working and attending evening classes at Rutgers University. He and his late wife raised their family in Clark, where he was also the founder and chairman of the Gran Centurions. Additionally, Vella was a New Jersey Commander of the former Grasselli Veterans Post, a Junior Vice Commander of VFW Post 673 in Jasper, IN, and director of the Toms River-based Greenbriar Woodlands Community Association.

Vella relocated to South Plainfield seven years ago and is an active a member of the borough’s American Legion Chaumont Post 243 as well as VFW Post 6763. He also currently dedicates his time speaking to and sharing his stories and experiences with South Plainfield students.

“He has done so many things in his life and dedicated his whole life to service,” said Bengivenga. “He worked and helped the communities he was in and, since moving to South Plainfield, has always been here, helping. He has always gone above and beyond.”

UNICO National is the nation’s largest Italian American service organization with local chapters throughout America. UNICO District X is comprised of 11 chapters in Union, Somerset and Middlesex Counties, including Clark, Elizabeth, Hillsborough, Hillside, Plainfields, Raritan, Scotch Plains/Fanwood, Berkeley Heights, New Providence, Westfield, and Union.

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