Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Fio's History

Gone But Not Forgotten

FiorelliSm.jpg Colonel James V. Fiorelli, United States Air Force Academy Class of 1964, died of a heart attack near Tucson, AZ on March 9, 1994.

It just wasn't supposed to happen. Not to Fio. Not now. Not this way. Never to the people who are living examples of the values and virtues which we embrace in life. Fio was doing what he loved. For 30 years he had flown fighters with an extraordinary display of skill and leadership. The stuff that real heroes are made of. But on March 9, 1994, he had to deal with one of the painful realities of flying high-performance military jets. An F-16 student who had a fraction of Fio's 7,800 hours of flying time had had an accident and Fio was leading a team into the mountains of Arizona to investigate. Having been dropped off by a helicopter, Fio was climbing a trail to the accident site when he suffered a heart attack. Although an EMT was present, Fio could not be saved. Colonel James V. Fiorelli, 162nd Fighter Group (ANG), Logistics Group commander, was born July 21, 1940 in Wilmington, Del. He was the son of Margaret M. and Dominic Fiorelli.

After graduation from USAFA in 1964, he attended pilot training at Webb AFB, TX. Two of Fio's traits had matured by this time: superb skills in handling aircraft, and achieving bonds of friendship that can only be characterized as boisterous, unflinching and permanent. He got his F-100 and was assigned to Bien Hoa AB, Vietnam in July 1966. Nobody told Fio he wasn't supposed to win the war all by himself, until he met Mary. Mary, a combat nurse who has extraordinary strength and virtues of her own, fell in love with the man who had flown 490 combat missions, had a growing reputation on the other side as a Misty FAC, was wearing the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Purple Heart, and 24 Air Medals.

Fio and Mary left Southeast Asia in April 1968 to begin raising a family, while Fio continued his career in fighters. He was an instructor pilot at Williams AFB and then went on an exchange tour flying F-104s at Cold Lake, Canada. He joined the Tucson Air Guard's 162nd TFG in October, 1972, and got reacquainted with the F-100. I joined the unit two years later as it began transitioning to an A-7 schoolhouse. That's when I became aware of Fio's other blossoming trait. Fio was a helpless romantic about anything to do with his family. I was amazed that a man who clearly demanded everyone's professional respect could look you right in the eye, point to his youngest daughter sleeping on the couch, raise a glass of wine and say just above a whisper “That's what it's all about!” Fio's call sign in the Guard was “Pizza”. A call sign that doesn't exactly elicit fear in a fresh opponent, nor admiration from a new wingman. But, for 22 years over the deserts of Arizona, students and adversaries alike have seen Fio tattoo lessons in airmanship in everybody's book. “It's not the airplane that counts, it's the pilot.. “Pizza, Tracking, Tracking...!” Fio, good Friend, good Father, good Son and good Husband, we got the message. The strength and joy you brought to all of us is only matched by the pain of your departure. May you find the peace you so richly deserve in heaven.

Colonel Fiorelli is survived by his wife, the former Mary C. O'Neill of San Francisco, CA. and their four children, Dena, Marianne, James II, and Catherine; mother, Margaret, his sister Antoinette Welsh, plus numerous relatives.

(George H. Branch III, '64, Gone But Not Forgotten, Checkpoints, Spring 1994)
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