Richard John Avetta
|HOME OF RECORD:
St. Louis, MO
|NEXT OF KIN:
Parents, Peter & Myrtle Avetta
|DATE OF BIRTH:
3/26/1941 – 3/29/1947
|DATE OF DEATH:
|LAST KNOWN RANK:
Richard Avetta was born in Missouri in 1920, the oldest child of Peter and Myrtle Avetta. School held little interest for him, or perhaps he needed to help support the family – Peter was employed by a tinfoil manufacturer – so Richard abandoned education after the eighth grade and eventually joined the armed forces. In the 1940 census, his employer is listed as the US Army; his occupation, private soldier.
Avetta reenlisted in the Marine Corps in 1941, at the age of 21. After training at MCRD San Diego, he was posted to Section Base at Terminal Island, California, where he quickly made Private First Class. He was on duty there when Pearl Harbor was attacked; although he had only been in the Corps for about a year, he was considered an experienced Marine and was sent to a field assignment – first the 9th Marines, and then Item Company, 22nd Marines, where he served as a corporal. Shortly after Avetta joined the 22nd, they shipped out from California for American Samoa.
Although Samoa was closer to the war zone (the men of the 22nd were nearly torpedoed en route), Avetta’s regiment would go no further for more than a year. They occupied a camp recently vacated by the 7th Marines, who had recently departed for the fighting on Guadalcanal. With the threat of Japanese attack diminishing by the day, there was little else to do but train. Colonel Wallace M. Greene Jr. would later observe “The 22nd Marines was at its peak in small unit training – training which was anchored firmly around a basic fire team organization. This was accomplished by tough, vigorous jungle training given the unit – during its stay in Western Samoa.” However it would take months, a transfer to Maui, a disastrously fatal training accident, and much impatience before the 22nd was able to get into action. (1)
Richard Avetta – Sergeant Avetta, as of his 24th birthday – first saw action in the Marshall Islands. His battalion landed on the island of Eniwetok in Kwajalein Atoll on February 19, 1944. Over the next few days, his company helped secure a number of other small islands, often landing under fire. Although his MOS was not recorded in the unit’s muster rolls, later evidence seems to suggest that Avetta was serving with his company’s machine gunners, possibly as a squad or section leader, while fighting the Japanese.
In the summer of 1944, Avetta was transferred out of the 22nd Marines and sent stateside – specifically, to Company E, Marine Barracks at Klamath Falls, Oregon. He had a unique assignment while there – “mounted fire patrolman” – meaning he rode a horse around the base on perpetual fire watch. This rather romantic assignment lasted only a few months before he was sent to the New Orleans, Louisiana ammunition depot as a guard.
By April 1945, as the Marines were recovering from the brutal battle of Iwo Jima, Sergeant Avetta was at Camp Pendleton learning to be a machine gun instructor. After completing the program, however, he was ordered to report not to Pendleton’s machine gun range but to the 69th Replacement Draft. He shipped out for the Fleet Marine Force in August, 1945, and joined Company B, 24th Marines at Camp Maui just a few weeks before the end of the war.
Avetta saw no further combat during the war; when the regiment disbanded, he went to Parris Island where he served as a DI until his discharge in 1947. When he left the Marines, Avetta carried the rank of staff sergeant.
With his Marine Corps days behind him, Avetta returned to St. Louis, where he married and raised a family. He worked as a city bus driver, was active in his local church, and maintained a strong interest in firearms.
On March 25, 1971, Richard Avetta was shot and killed by a .380 slug that hit him close to the heart – a bullet fired from his own gun. He was found dead on a sidewalk by police, who immediately started a criminal investigation. His son-in-law, Paul Geisler, wrote his theory of what happened that fateful night:
After hearing the evidence at the inquest, and having known Sandy’s [Avetta, his wife] dad for 6 years, I pieced together what I believed happened. It is important to keep some things in mind about Mr. Avetta. First of all, he was armed and he was a crack shot. He was in the military for 22 years and had fought as a Marine in Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. And he was still a very strong man. (2)
As Mr. Avetta pulled his bus into the South Broadway lot, something was staged to draw him out of his bus, perhaps a fight or a ruse of someone being beaten. Once he was out of his bus, he was jumped by a group of people, disarmed, and forced into his own car. He was forced to drive his car to Iowa Street at gunpoint. Mr. Avetta realized his captors were going to kill him, but he wasn’t going down without a fight. He suddenly turned and lunged toward the man with the gun. There was a struggle during which the handgun was fired at least twice, point-blank at his chest. After the shots were fired, his captors fled. Mr. Avetta, not knowing that he only had seconds to live, got out of the car to pursue them, only to collapse in the street behind his car. That is my theory. (3)
Richard Avetta is buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis.
(1) Harold P. Hamman, History of the 22nd Marines.
(2) No USMC records exist to support the claim that Avetta served for more than six years, or was anywhere near Guadalcanal or Iwo Jima; Geisler is probably relating imperfectly-remembered family lore. His accounts of Avetta’s marksmanship and physical strength, on the other hand, are most likely completely accurate.
(3) Paul C.Geiseler, Mr. Paul. Page 39.