Veterans Day: Calitri used design skills for Vietnam comrades

Photo Submitted  John Calitri, a native of Perry County, now resides in Corbin. He is a Vietnam Veteran and Graduate of Centre College.
Photo Submitted
John Calitri, a native of Perry County, now resides in Corbin. He is a Vietnam Veteran and Graduate of Centre College.

John Michael Calitri, 71, is a Perry County native, raised, as he says, “in the mountains.” The son of a WWII Marine, Calitri left his hometown of Hazard to attend Center College and, in 1968, was drafted by the army shortly after graduating at the age of 24.

He spent a year at Fort Benning, Ga., where he received on the job training.

Calitri’s experience in Vietnam was unique. Because of his design degree from Center College, Calitri was assigned the job of Entertainment Specialist. Calitri worked with Vietnam Command Military Touring Show that staged the first non-professional production of the musical “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown,” based on Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip “PEANUTS.” The troupe toured South Vietnam during 1969. Calitri also worked with the likes of Bob Hope and various bands who visited the troops through United Service Organization (USO).

“It was important to keep morale up in places like Vietnam,” explained Calitri.

Despite the exciting detail, Calitri was not free from danger.

He recalls an incident, “I remember one time, I was the driver for a drummer in a band. We were going along and, out of no where, I hear ‘pow pow pow.’ Bullets were flying everywhere, they were bouncing off the ground, dust was flying up. The drummer ducked under his seat faster than I could blink.

charlie brown poster WebI learned from the mountains that if someone is shooting at you, they’re not your friend. So I reached for the rifle on the dash.

It took a moment, but we realized that the bullets weren’t actually hitting the car.”

A major issue with the conflict in Vietnam was knowing your enemy. Friend and foe were

Photo Submitted  John Calitri (fifth person from the left), gathers with other members of the Command Military Touring Show, as they were honored for their non-professional touring performances of "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown." Calitri was the set designer for the performances.
Photo Submitted
John Calitri (fifth person from the left), gathers with other members of the Command Military Touring Show, as they were honored for their non-professional touring performances of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” Calitri was the set designer for the performances.

nearly indistinguishable.

“As it turned out,” Calitri continued, “a local who didn’t speak english was trying to stop our car to warn us. Just up the road, there had been an ambush and several of our men were injured.”

Calitri received an early release from the army and left Vietnam in 1970 and went on to receive his graduate degree from South Methodist University. He now lives in Corbin with his wife Barbara.