- By Nancy Badertscher The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Vietnam vet Bruce D’Agostino always had a huge place in his heart for the American soldier.
In the late 1980s, long after his official service to country had ended, the not-particularly-religious D’Agostino told family he felt called by God to return to Vietnam. His mission: negotiate on behalf of America’s prisoners of war and missing in action.
Decades later, when Cobb County established a special court for lawbreakers with underlying issues related to their military service, D’Agostino again raised his hand to help. This time, he committed to spending 18 months as mentor to one troubled vet.
“Bruce lived a good life and made a difference for his country and his community,” said Superior Court Judge Reuben Green, who presides over Cobb County Veterans Treatment Court.
Bruce Frank D’Agostino, 70, of Marietta died July 22 from pancreatic cancer. A memorial service will be Thursday at 2 p.m. at Roswell River Landing.
He was born Aug. 5, 1946 in Natick, Mass. to Frank and Kay Towne D’Agostino.
In high school, D’Agostino formed a rock band and played backup drummer. After graduating in 1965, he enlisted in the Air Force and was trained as a crypto-teletype technician. While stationed in Japan, he taught English and learned to speak and read Japanese. He was sent to Vietnam to repair the military’s teletype machines and also began documenting the toll of war on the troops in photographs, some of which were sold to the Associated Press and United Press International, his family said.
D’Agostino was “hit more than once with Agent Orange,” a chemical the military used in herbicidal warfare, his wife said. “Even though the VA will not recognize it yet, I’m fully of the opinion that his pancreatic cancer was a result of this.”
D’Agostino later took up carpentry, launched his own business and met and married Anne Fitzpatrick, mother of his three sons, Peter, Greg and Joe.
In the 1980s, after they divorced, he started Humanitarian International, an organization to coordinate efforts to assist the Vietnamese people. After viewing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, he proposed returning to Vietnam as a civilian to negotiate the release of POWs/MIAs, his family said.
Joe Galloway, author of “We were Soldiers Once … and Young” interviewed D’Agostino in 2016 for the Witness to War Foundation. That interview is maintained by the National Archives. Some of D’Agostino’s efforts also were discussed in a 1987 piece by newspaper columnist Jack Anderson.
D’Agostino lived in Key West in the 1990s and moved to Atlanta as part of the construction boom related to the 1996 Summer Olympics. Later, he moved to Chicago, where he developed five prototype libraries for the city, his family said.
In 1996, he met his future wife, former beauty pageant winner and Delta manager Ann Beaman, over a trash can at the Atlanta airport.
He asked Beaman for a date. Her response, she said, was, “Excuse me. I don’t know who you are and for all I know you could be a rapist or a serial killer.” He replied, “You know, I’ve never killed a box of cereal yet.”
His humor proved to be the door-opener. It also helped that D’Agostino told her he’d raised his 17-, 19- and 21-year-old boys since one was a toddler. “I thought this man has not only a sense of humor, but he’s got character too,” said Ann, who was 52 and had never married. They wed in 1999.
In 2014, when Cobb County was starting its new court program for veterans, D’Agostino was one of the first people to sign up as a mentor,” Judge Green said. “He came in and jumped right in and volunteered to help.”
D’Agostino and the vet he mentored were together “day in and day out,” and “Bruce felt like he was making a difference,” Green said.
When D’Agostino’s health began to fail, the person he’d helped stepped up to help him, the judge said. “It was really neat to watch.”
Longtime friend Clinton Day said D’Agostino was always one of the most popular members of the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association, one of several organizations he was in. “What set him apart to me was his colorful past and boldness,” Day said.
Besides his Ann, D’Agostino is survived by sons Peter D’Agostino of Brookline, N.H., Greg D’Agostino of Natick, and Joe D’Agostino of Dorchester, Mass.; a brother, Brian; and several grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Bravo Victor Fund, Attention: Judge Reuben Green, Cobb County Veterans Treatment Court, Cobb County Superior Court, 70 Haynes St., Marietta, GA 30090.