Two Strangers Come Together To Remember A Friend And Loved One
Sgt. Maj. Lisa Torello was 5 years old when her dad, Sgt. 1st Class Carl Torello, was killed in Vietnam.
"My dad was due to retire; he was two months short of 20 years," 55-year-old Lisa said during a visit to StoryCorps. "So, he knew it was his last tour and he was gonna go home for good."
Lisa was joined by Tony Cistaro, a State Department employee at the time, who was the only survivor from the attack that killed the elder Torello. The two had just met the day before.
"Your dad was very duty-bound. If he was passed over to go out in the field, he'd get animated about it," Cistaro said. "And, uh, I was with your dad the day he was killed. We were going to travel through the province and make three stops. It was a winding road and as we were coming down the hill, which was the most dangerous spot. I turned and faced your father. We smiled and gave each other thumbs up; we made it. And the next thing I knew, I was thrown out of my seat and I was seeing sky. I realized then, my God, we've been blown up.
"Your father was laying off to the side of the road and, he never regained consciousness," he continued. "I know I was the last person your dad saw and I still see that smile on your father's face, one hand on the steering wheel, and that's how I remember your dad."
When they met, Cistaro, 85, told Lisa she had her dad's smile.
"That just — I lost it," she said. "My dad and I had this connection that was deeper than I even understood. And, within two months after graduating from high school, I left for basic training. And then, once I joined the Army, all I really wanted to do was to be his rank.
"So, when I made my father's rank, as soon as the ceremony was over, I went to the bathroom and cried," Lisa said. "And I was like, I did it. That was the most monumental thing that ever happened to me. I mean, I wanted to be exactly like him, and 31 years in the Army, I guess I am just like him."
Cistaro — who also told Lisa she was brave — said he visits her dad at the Vietnam Memorial wall each year.
"Someone asked, 'Don't you want to forget?' And no. I'm happy I met you and I'm happy that I can help you understand more," he said. "Yes, and I wanna say, your dad, his grin would be from ear to ear, you know that, to see you as you are now."
Lisa replied: "Thank you. I don't feel like he's ever left me, ever."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.