Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Manto, a retired member of the 50th Main Support Battalion, NJARNG, was recognized at the "Salute to Veterans" inaugural event in Washington, D.C., on January 19.
The event honored all those who served, or are currently serving in uniform, but singled out four special Americans whose service had positively impacted the lives of others. Manto had rescued two Lodi police officers during Hurricane Floyd in September 1999. The event was hosted by Vice President Dick Cheney and was attended by 101 Medal of Honor recipients, President George Bush, the joint chiefs of the armed forces, Colin Powell, as well as veterans from across the country.
Patrolman Louis Avola, Jr. of the Lodi Police Force spoke to the crowd about being trapped in the raging floodwaters of the Saddle River, pinned against a sign for more than an hour, until Manto climbed over two rooftops and through an apartment to clamber down a ladder and pull him to safety. He said, "How did this National Guard soldier affect my life? I would not be here today without him."
The other three speakers were a South Korean who was liberated after the Inchon Invasion; a Holocaust survivor who was rescued by an American tank crew just as he was about to be shot; and 1st Lt. Michael Blassie's fiance. Blassie had been buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Serviceman of the Vietnam War until his remains were identified in 1998.
After Avola spoke, the crowd cheered and acknowledged Manto with handshakes, thumbs up and many congratulations. Manto's wife, Lucy, awarded him with a kiss.