CRANSTON, RI – A 91-year-old Rhode Islander, Joseph Aquilante, was awarded some long overdue medals today that he earned but never received for his service in the U.S. Army Air Forces (AFF) during World War II.  U.S. Senator Jack Reed presented Private First Class (PFC) Aquilante with the medals he was owed for his service in the AFF Technical Air Intelligence Unit, which was tasked with recovering Japanese aircraft to obtain data regarding their technical and tactical capabilities.

A native of Providence and one of eleven children of Italian immigrants, Mr. Aquilante was drafted into the United States Army Air Forces in 1944 at the age of 18.  His tour of duty began at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas.  He then went to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii before spending most of his two-year service overseas in the Pacific.

Mr. Aquilante’s responsibilities as a member of the AFF Technical Air Intelligence Unit included reporting on new developments in Okinawa and retrieving Japanese Aircraft Fighters from various airfields and preparing them for transport to Anacostia Naval Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., for further testing and analysis by U.S. forces.  The unit’s work on crashed and captured aircraft helped uncover vulnerabilities in enemy aircraft that could be exploited.

After a number of months in the Pacific, PFC Aquilante departed Japan for California on the USS Takanis Bay (CVE-89), a United States Navy Casablanca-class escorted aircraft carrier.  At the conclusion of the war, he stayed for a time in Washington, D.C., and received an Honorable Discharge as Private First Class Technical Air Intelligence Unit, Advanced Echelon, Far Eastern Air Forces.

In recognition of his service during the war, Mr. Aquilante earned the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, the Good Conduct Medal (Army) and the Army of Occupation Medal, Japan Clasp.

“At long last, on behalf of a grateful nation I am honored to present PFC Aquilante with these military service medals and recognition which are long overdue.  Mr. Aquilante’s service was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army and reflects great credit upon himself, his family, and our nation,” said Senator Reed, the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  “I am proud to play a small role in helping members of the Greatest Generation receive the honors they earned.  It is important that we continue to recognize what our veterans have done for this country, and on behalf of the people of Rhode Island, I offer Mr. Aquilante our sincere thanks and admiration.”

When Mr. Aquilante returned to Providence in 1946, he married Elsie Rivers, settled in North Providence, and raised three children.  He began his lifelong career as an automobile technician and filled his spare time with many hobbies, including HAM (amateur) radio, model airplanes, and photography.  Mr. Aquilante was widowed ten years ago after 60 years of marriage.

Today, Mr. Aquilante is active with veterans groups, enjoys gardening, and remains an all-around handyman who continues to learn and mentor.  He has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, of the 16 million Americans who served in the U.S. military during World War II, only 620,000 were alive in 2016, including 2,625 Rhode Islanders.