Tony Perillo has experienced what one might call a diverse set of life challenges. The New Haven native was drafted to serve in Vietnam, where he suffered life-altering injuries in an ambush. He lost his beloved wife, Linda, to cancer in 1999. He, himself, is a cancer survivor – and also suffered a stroke in 2001.
So, what is Tony’s take on his life, looking back at his 73 years on the planet? “I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he says.
Tony’s life will get a bit easier this Saturday, as a team of volunteers from House of Heroes Connecticut (HOHCT) will honor his service to our nation, descending upon his 51 Nod Brook Road, Wallingford home to refurbish his deck and tidy up his property. Additional plumbing work is being done separately today. It is the non-profit veteran service organization’s 134th project since its founding in 2012, fifth in Wallingford and second in 2020 following a lengthy delay serving Connecticut veterans due to COVID-19.
Perillo was born and raised in The Hill section of New Haven and graduated from Notre Dame of West Haven High School. He was drafted in 1965, entered the U.S. Army in January of 1966 and trained at Ford Dix, New Jersey. He completed advanced infantry training, scored at the top of his rifle class and, after further training at Fort Gordon (Georgia) and Fort Hood (Texas), was sent to Vietnam in early 1967.
It took little time for the reality of war to be thrust upon Perillo as he suffered serious injuries in an explosion during an ambush. Tony owes his life, he says, to an unknown fellow soldier who carried him to safety. “We were on ambush patrol, and it was us who got ambushed,” says Perillo. “Let’s just say I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Perillo spent seven months in recuperation, including a long stretch at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He has used a cane to walk most of his life and has a walker, though he does not like to use it. But he has persevered; following his service he returned home to complete a history degree at then-Quinnipiac College, returned to his job as a haberdasher at Nat Greenblatt’s Clothiers in New Haven, married, raised two daughters, and spent 26 years with the U.S. Postal Service in Cheshire.
“Being in the Army was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” says the eternally positive Perillo. “The Army taught me how to stand up for myself. If I got into a jam, it was my problem to get out of. It made me the man I am today.”
Perillo says he owes much of his positive attitude to his parents, including his Dad who was among the first wave to land on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day in World War II. “When Tom Brokaw wrote The Greatest Generation, he was talking about my parents,” says Perillo. “I learned when you get a lot, you have to pay it back.”
As for the work House of Heroes is doing on his home, Perillo is humbled. “I am truly grateful and thankful that somebody is helping me.”
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