SCHWENKSVILLE, Pa. – Standing on the porch were two Marines. On the right was an older Marine wearing a service uniform with a stack of ribbons below his left shoulder. To his left was a much younger Marine; a veteran standing at attention as the senior Marine pinned a Purple Heart to his chest. The senior Marine was his father.
During a family gathering in Schwenksville, Pa., Sept. 28, 2013, Brig. Gen. Vincent Coglianese presented his son, Ferdinand Coglianese, a Purple Heart. Ferdinand’s brother read the warrant while his mother, Mary Coglianese, stood proudly next to them. The whole family was together for this special occasion.
“I’m proud of both of them,” said Mary. “It’s wonderful to see them together and that they had this opportunity. We’re really blessed that they could be together for this moment. It could have been far worse. He could have not been there. It was a beautiful moment to watch.”
Brigadier Gen. Coglianese is the commanding general of 1st Marine Logistics Group and his son, Ferdinand, a lance corporal at the time, served with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
In late June, 2011, during a routine combat logistics patrol, while driving a Husky equipped with an Interim Vehicle Mounted Mine Detector, Ferdinand Coglianese was struck by an improvised explosive device directly underneath his vehicle.
His cab flipped and detonated an additional IED that set it spinning two more times before coming to a halt. He blacked out.
“It was an incredible unit I was with,” said Ferdinand, a native of Charleston, S.C. “The guys I deployed with are lifesavers. When I went in, the Marines to my left and right were all I had.”
When he came to, awakened by radio chatter, he stuck his hand out of the top of the cab and gave a thumbs up to let the other Marines know he was still alive. He was evaluated and placed in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle overnight to prepare for a casualty evacuation at dawn.
“My son was always a hard worker,” said Mary. “He always finishes the job and finishes it well. I wasn’t surprised that he wanted to enter the service. When he chose the Marine Corps, Vinny asked him why he wanted to join the Marine Corps, and he said because it was the best. He wanted to be part of the best.”
The following morning, the MRAP was hit by another IED. He returned to Camp Leatherneck to recover.
“The first thing I received was a photo of his vehicle,” said Mary. “It didn’t even occur to me that it was his. I knew something was wrong but didn’t want to overreact until I heard the truth.”
More than two years later, Ferdinand stands next to his father to receive the oldest award still given to members of the U.S. military.
“My dad gave a big speech about the history of the Purple Heart,” said Ferdinand. “He presented it to me, and then I said a few words. It’s a proud feeling to be pinned on by your father. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
His father, who was commissioned from Indiana University in 1983, was equally proud of his son and the Marines who served alongside him.
“We need to recognize that the majority of our Marines are 25 years or younger,” said Brig. Gen. Coglianese. “These young men and women in the military are all volunteers. For the last 12 years, they have volunteered knowing they'd serve in some military operation, in a combat situation. When my son joined the Marine Corps, I was so proud. I have the greatest admiration for my son and for the young men and women who risk their lives for freedom, for right and for the United States.”
There were many thankful people that afternoon. Brigadier Gen. Coglianese, filled with pride for his son; Mary, glad that her family was together and out of harm’s way; and Ferdinand, thankful for his family’s unwavering support and dedication.
“There is nothing more important to me or closer to my heart than my family. I will never be able to express to them my gratitude for all they have done. My mother, my father, my brothers and all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. Every day, every minute, it was knowing they were there that allowed me to serve with honor,” Ferdinand said.