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thedrifter
03-23-06, 07:46 AM
Jefferson native gets Bronze Star for battlefield heroics in Iraq

BY MATT MANOCHIO
DAILY RECORD

Marine Capt. Frank Diorio was used to his base camp in Iraq getting hit by mortars every day.

The Lake Hopatcong native and 1991 graduate of Pope John High School usually could tell where they landed based on the sound.

But on the morning of April 11 last year, something different took place at Camp Gannon in Husaybah, Iraq, where Diorio was company commander.

More than 40 Iraqi insurgents surrounded the camp near the Syrian border and relentlessly attacked it with three suicide vehicles including a fire truck filled with explosives.

"I didn't lose anybody, by the grace of God," said Diorio, 33, who received the Bronze Star for leading his 40 Marines to defeat the insurgents.

He received the medal Monday at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where the Marines are based, in front of his Marines and his family.

"It was mentally and physically trying," he said of the April 2005 attack.

Diorio said many of the Marines he led were teenagers, and their devotion meant the most to him.

"To watch Marines every day, going to their battle positions ... to watch them endure what they endured ... that to me was everything," he said during a phone interview Wednesday from Camp Lejeune.

Diorio said that 40 insurgents dismounted vehicles and attacked the base that day. Most of the fighting was at close range.

"It was a very coordinated attack," he said.

Diorio said it was humbling to receive the military's prestigious medal for bravery and meritorious service.

Hard to accept

"What meant the most to me was my Marines were glad to see their captain get the award,"he said. "It's hard for an officer to accept an award, but to know that they came to see it and were proud of it ... meant a lot to me."

Diorio's father, Frank Diorio, made the trip to Camp Lejeune with his wife, Maureen, and five daughters.

"He's the kind of guy who puts everybody else first," said Frank Diorio, of Lake Hopatcong in Jefferson. "He's just a good kid that a father can be proud of."

Capt. Diorio was deployed in Iraq from February to December 2005. He was the commander of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.

He led his company in more than 275 engagements at Camp Gannon , according the Marines.

The Rev. Kieran McHugh, principal of Pope John in Sparta, said Capt. Diorio returned to his hometown to be with his wife, Charlotte, for the birth of their daughter, Talia, about six months ago.

"He did say things were dangerous in Iraq," McHugh said. "Very, very dangerous."

McHugh said Capt. Diorio returned to Pope John a couple of years ago to address the students about his job as a Marine. McHugh said Capt. Diorio was an outstanding student when he attended the high school.

"Frank was a very nice kid," McHugh said. "Frank was very involved in school, very vivacious, very vibrant. He had tremendous school spirit (and) was always in the mix of things, in a good sense."

The elder Diorio, 70, who served in the Navy in the 1950s, said his son attended and graduated Notre Dame University in 1996 before joining the Marines.

He said that his son, during last week's medal ceremony, was modest and praised his fellow Marines.

"He told his Marines how proud he was that he served with them, and he was proud to be with the whole company."

Matt Manochio can be reached at (973) 989-0652 or mmanochi@gannett.com.

Ellie