The Loneliness of the American Hero
Inside New York's increasingly quiet veterans' halls.
Michael Chirieleison, whom nobody calls Mike and everybody calls Mickey, is 63 years old. When he was 18, he was thrown out of the Green Beret, for fighting. Unfazed, Mickey volunteered for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, with which he would serve in Vietnam. “I thought it’d be like Italy or something,” he says of the war. “It turned out to be something completely different.” Today, Mickey is commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5195 on Van Brunt Street, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Sal Meglio, a big, gray-haired man in silver wire frames, who once filled glass bottles with tea and sold them for whiskey on the Japanese black market—and who also works the bar at Post 5195—sometimes calls Chirieleison Mick. Smoke has so graveled Sal’s voice that his words emerge sounding squeezed, as if his diaphragm has relinquished them grudgingly. As if from a man gut-shot in battle. When he shouts, “Mick-ey! Phone!” above the din of the bar, one has the sense of a mort…
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