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I like to say I went to the university of life. I was born and raised in Flushing, Queens, and went to a military high school. I had a lot of friends in the neighborhood, and I was at someone’s house when this friend brought his sister over. I liked her, and I ended up going by their house a couple more times, but she didn’t really want anything to do with me.
School wasn’t for me but I knew I needed structure, so I told my dad I was enlisting. He had been a merchant marine and my older brother was in the Navy — I remember when he came home from Vietnam. I was in Charlie Company, First Battalion, Third Marines. I did three WESTPACs, where we toured the Pacific for six months at a clip, and I’d have three or four days between deployments to go home. We’d leave from Pearl Harbor and head to Australia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Japan and Africa. All those places that cost a fortune to go to now.
Four years in, we had just finished a training mission in Australia. We were heading back to the Philippines when my orders came in over the teletype for reenlistment. I was a sergeant at the time, and my orders were to go to Iceland. We had been sailing for five days, so the captain decided to push off the reenlistment ceremony — everyone can relax and we can do this tomorrow, he said. But we were close enough to the Philippines that the helicopters were able to come in with the mail that night.
In that mail delivery, I had a letter from the girl back in Queens. All she had to say was: I know you’re coming to the end of your enlistment. Why don’t you come home and let’s see if we can make something happen? So I did. I went to the ceremony and told the captain I changed my mind. He was not happy.
In that mail delivery, I had a letter from the girl back in Queens.
I went back to Queens and reunited with her. We’ve been married 38 years. We have two boys, who we raised in the same neighborhood, in Bayside, and they’re both New York City firefighters. The three of them are the reason I got into safety. I worked in construction after leaving the Marines, and walking through jobs across the city made me more aware of everything. My wife was a teacher — she retired as a principal — and the idea that she and my kids could be walking into a school under construction, where maybe the scaffolding and bridging wasn’t put together right, was really a motivator for me to get my safety license.
It was a life-changing letter. But I was 22. I had no clue at the time.
Richie Salorio serves as the safety director for Suffolk’s New York region, overseeing projects such as 520 Fifth Avenue, Jamaica Armory, The Brook and the Waldorf-Astoria renovation. He and his wife live in Long Beach, N.Y.
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