Reading was very important to Joe Cirelli while growing up in the 1950s. While America launched into the Cold War, and he took a special interest in military history. He had an uncle who served in the Korean War, and he was impressed with the Marines–which he joined himself in ‘59 for a four-year enlistment.
The Marines recognized Joe’s linguistic skills as an asset, and he was trained in Russian and military code. He studied Russian history and served in the Aleutian Islands at the height of the Cold War. He was a copier of code, transcribing covert Russian messages and passing them along to the cryptologists and translators.
Joe went to Vietnam in 1962 for four months. He was among the first American military “advisors” sent to Southeast Asia by President Kennedy. Working in secret under the security of the South Vietnamese government, Joe’s special Marine unit was tasked with intelligence gathering, locating enemy radio stations and intercepting communications. Looking for the intersection of radio signals would help them find their source and location.
Joe feels that the Marine Corps made him stronger with his values and dedication to others. His experiences in the service shaped him. He has a strong military resume which he lists near the end of his interview. Joe enjoys talking about his service because these stories need to be told for future generations to understand. Joe is very patriotic and feels the defense of the United States is very important.
In April 2014, Vietnam veteran Joe Cirelli joined us for our second veterans oral history educational project at Winchester-Thurston School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was part of our effort to work with teachers and students to provide an interesting workshop covering the oral history process, appropriate interview questions, special considerations when interviewing veterans, active listening skills, and oral history ethics.