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Faces Bio



  • vineland
  • Cumberland
  • May 28, 1941
  • December 16, 1970
  • Army
  • RANK:
  • CWO
  • KIA
  • South Vietnam


  Joseph J. Danna, Jr. was born on May 28, 1941. His home of record is Vineland, NJ. He had five sisters, Mary Ann, Agnes, Catherine, Rita and Theresa. He graduated from Sacred Heart High School in 1959. He enjoyed cars and motorcycles. Later in life, he enjoyed smoking pipes and truly loved the army. He served in the US Army and attained the rank of Chief Warrant Officer (CWO). Danna was killed in action on December 16, 1970. He is buried in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Vineland, NJ. He was survived by his wife, Joanne, and two daughters, Melanie and Josette. Danna was awarded numerous medals and decorations. These include the Bronze Star Medal, the Air Medal with the Second Award, Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Army Good Conduct Medal with two bronze star loops, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Medal of Honor (Second Class) and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. Joseph (Joe) was born on May 28, 1941, in Haverstraw, New York. He was the first child, and only son, of Joseph John Danna, Sr., and Theresa Danna. He had five sisters, Mary Ann, Agnes, Catherine, Rita and Theresa. Joe's father was originally a farmer from Rosenhayn, New Jersey. Joseph, Sr. moved to New York during World War II where he worked in an ammunition factory. After the war he decided to move back to South Jersey and settled in Vineland. Joe attended Sacred Heart Grammar School and Sacred Heart High School in Vineland where he graduated in 1959. Shortly after graduating, Joe enlisted in the Army. He enjoyed working on cars and had hoped to learn mechanics while in the service. He also loved to travel and looked forward to doing so while in the Army. He often joked that the reason he enlisted was to get away from all the women in his house, which is but a small sampling of his ever-present sense of humor. For basic training Joe was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey from September 8, 1959 to November 14, 1959. After basic he was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Joe's mother recalls this story about him while he was stationed there. An officer came into the classroom and wanted to know if anyone knew how to type. Joe volunteered even though his high school teacher said he was the worst typist in the class. Joe stayed up all night typing the report for the officer so it would be perfect for him. This gesture took Joe out of the field of mechanics and steered him into other areas of service. If you ever saw any of his typed letters, you'd have to wonder how he ever pulled it off! Yet, as bad as his typing was, his handwriting was even worse - which was why his mother insisted he take a typing class in the first place. In May 1961, Joe headed to Korea with the Eighth United States Army, Personnel Special Troops. In August 1961 he was transferred to the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion in Yong Dong Po. Shortly after, Joe was transferred to the 7th Military Intelligence (MI) Detachment at Tong Du Chon-ni and his grade was changed to acting Sergeant. For the remainder of his time in Korea, Joe was a combat intelligence sergeant along the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and an instructor in the division counter-guerilla school. After sixteen months in Korea, Joe returned to the United States (July 1962) and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While there, Joe became a member of the Green Berets and was an instructor in guerilla warfare and parachuting. In 1965, Joe was working at the Pentagon. While visiting his family in Vineland on Memorial Day weekend, he heard that someone in the area was driving back to Washington. It was then that Joe met Joanne, his future wife. Joanne was from Newfield, New Jersey, but was living in Washington at the time and working as a private secretary at the Department of Agriculture. Joe and Joanne became engaged in 1966, while Joe was attending the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. One of Joe's classmates at the language institute, Stan D. Grosswald, later commented that Joe "was one of the most experienced, good guys out of a class of many special good guys." On October 1, 1966, Joe was appointed Warrant Officer at the Presidio of Monterey. Shortly after, Joe was sent to Vietnam for his first tour of duty. He was with the 2nd Brigade, 4th MI Division/4th Infantry Division in Pleiku. While in Vietnam, Joe advised other units (the former 173rd Airborne and the US Marines) on intelligence operations. Joe came home in October 1967 and married Joanne on November 4, 1967 in St. Rose of Lima Church in Newfield. They then moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where Joe worked as head of Army Intelligence at the atomic energy testing site in Mercury, Nevada. While there, their first child, Melanie Jo was born. On August 28, 1970, Joe returned to Vietnam as Chief Warrant Officer 2 for his second tour of duty with the 571st MI Department, 5th Hydro Survey Team in Quang Ngai City. Four months later, he was involved in a fatal helicopter crash. He died on December 16, 1970. The following is a quote from a letter written by Donald G. Bennett, LTG, MI Commanding Officer to Joe's parents on December 31, 1970: "Joe arrived in Da Nang in August of this year and was assigned to one of our sub-elements in Quang Ngai City, Quang Ngai Province. From the outset, Joe impressed me with his bearing, completely professional attitude, and enthusiastic approach to duty. Joe was truly an outstanding officer and individual in every sense of the word. He was admired and respected by all those with whom he came in contact. On 16 December 1970 at 1:30 PM, Joe boarded the detachment helicopter at Ba To, a district of Quang Ngai Province, along with several other passengers, the two pilots and two crewmen. As the helicopter took off, an unpredictable, yet tragic engine failure caused the helicopter to lose altitude and crash. Upon crashing, the helicopter burst into flames. Joe was trapped inside. Medical assistance and an emergency rescue team arrived at the scene of the crash within minutes after it occurred. Every effort was made to save Joe, but he was dead when taken from the aircraft." Joe was buried on December 24, 1970, in his hometown of Vineland at Sacred Heart Cemetery. While the funeral services were being held at Sacred Heart Church, Joe's wife Joanne was giving birth to their second daughter, Josette, named after her father. Thirty-four years later, Joanne wrote a touching story about that day called, "The Christmas Tree." It was published in Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul ( On May 7, 1971, Joe posthumously received the Bronze Star Medal. Other medals include: the Air Medal with the Second Award, Army Commendation Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Good Conduct Medal with two Bronze Loops, National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Medal of Honor (Second Class) and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. On December 17, 2005, exactly thirty-five years and one day after Joe died, his wife Joanne died. Joanne spent her life keeping Joe's memory alive for her daughters. She became a member of the Gold Star Wives of America ( and took a leading role, remaining active in the group until her death. Joe's legacy lives on with his two daughters, two grandchildren, sisters, and mother. His oldest daughter, Melanie, is active in Sons and Daughters In Touch ( She visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC for every Father's Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In 2006, Joe's sister, Theresa and her 7-year-old son, AJ, attended a Memorial Day service at the National Cemetery in Los Angeles where they told California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about Joe's death in Vietnam. The Governor was so moved that he later sent AJ a letter saying: " I never met your uncle, but he's my hero. He's my hero because he made America the great place it is for me and for my kids, and for that I will always be grateful." Theresa wrote an essay about her brother entitled, "Big Brother is Watching." It is posted on Joe's website ( In her essay, Theresa describes the big brother she knew only for twelve short years of her life: "Joe wore Wayfarer sunglasses long before Tom Cruise's Risky Business. He also smoked a pipe packed with sweetly exotic tobaccos from countries I would only visit vicariously through View Master slides and his packages in the mail...He was the proud owner of a blue Thunderbird and an art deco home in the desert. He cultivated a rose garden near the patio and hung a machete above his fireplace. His front door, padded double panels covered with black leather, opened to a stone foyer protected by a brass statue of Buddha in the pose where his chubby arms are up stretched to hold back evil spirits. Joe introduced me to the Beatles' St. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, ending my innocent Monkee years. He also listened to the abstract sounds of Ravi Shankar and the resounding Impossible Dream by Jim Nabors, who, until that point, had only been the goofy Gomer Pyle, USMC, to me." Joe was the 14th and last Vineland resident to die in Vietnam. His most memorable quality was best described by a fellow officer in a letter to Joanne: "...he was one of the finest officers I've ever met and worked with. He really knew his business and his experience was a great help to the rest of the team...we'll all remember his outstanding sense of humor. This isn't the nicest place in the world to be, and at times things can get pretty bad, but whenever they did, Joe always knew how to put humor in the situation and everything was alright again..." Written by Melanie Danna, Daughter My brother enlisted in the Army the year I was born. When I was twelve, he died in Vietnam. In between those two events fell the 1960s, my childhood. Joe was the oldest of six children and named after my father. I was the youngest and named after my mother. Since he was usually on duty in parts of the world far, far away from our rural hometown of Vineland, New Jersey, my memories of him are few, yet poignant snippets of a childhood shaped by the effects of hippies, sit-ins, the generation gap, and the first living room war. A photograph was shot in our front yard the day Joe shipped out to his first of two tours of duty in Vietnam. I was concerned that my posture was erect and my knee socks even. After seeing the developed product, I was upset that the bow on my dress was cocked and that the sun shining in my eyes contorted my face. I wanted so badly for that picture to be perfect. The moments with my only brother were limited, so I felt there was no room for error, no time to waste. But looking at this snapshot now, I realize Joe lived his twenty-nine years of life as if he did have all the time in the world. A soldier at ease, he ignored the camera and decided to look at his baby sister a bit longer before flying off to the jungle, where little girls in frilly Sunday dresses and patent leather shoes existed only in a GI's memory. Joe wore Wayfarer sunglasses long before Tom Cruise's "Risky Business." He also smoked a pipe packed with sweetly exotic tobaccos from countries I would only visit vicariously through View Master slides and his packages in the mail. When I was four, the mailman delivered a large box from Korea. I climbed on the arm of our big living room chair, anxious for Mom to open it. My sisters were all at school, and Dad was at work. The treasure was exclusively ours to explore. First, a pair of silver-blue satin pajamas for Rita, then a pair of chopsticks for Cathe. And then, for me, an exquisite Korean rag doll, sad to be away from her homeland, but happy to be out of the parcel. Her head was perfectly round, with fuzzy black hair, and dark slanted eyes and red pursed lips painted on her yellow face. She wore a long red and gold satin dress with an off-white silk slip and ankle-length bloomers beneath. My stiff buxom Barbie doll and her fake kimono paled against the real thing. My Korean doll was huggable and, unlike my Barbie, sits on my bookshelf today. When Joe came back from Vietnam the first time, I gathered the neighborhood girls together and taught them an original "Hello, Joe!" welcome home cheer. We practiced it on the front lawn for a week so it would be flawless on that special day. We strung cardboard letters to our backs--mine was H, Julie's was E, Terry's was L, Renee's another L, and Liz's O. However, when we finally premiered our performance, Liz's letter fell off, and even I laughed when Joe, my family, and our Boody Drive neighbors realized we were displaying "HELL" instead. Oh well, maybe some things are better imperfect. In 1968, when Joe was stationed at a bomb testing site in Nevada, Mom let me live the summer in Las Vegas with him and his newlywed wife, Joanne. Those two months were the longest continuous period I spent with him, a period that I later recognized as a coming-of-age experience. That was when I met Joe the person, not Joe the hero. He was the proud owner of a blue Thunderbird and an art deco home in the desert. He cultivated a rose garden near the patio and hung a machete above his fireplace. His front door, padded double panels covered with black leather, opened to a stone foyer protected by a brass statue of Buddha in the pose where his chubby arms are upstretched to hold back evil spirits. Our best times that summer were Fridays, when he allowed me to stay up late to watch W.C. Fields movies on television with him. I especially liked the one about the trip from New Jersey to California, a trek I journeyed myself seventeen years later. Even though Joe has been dead for more than three decades, his watchful eye hasn't disappeared. I'm convinced that my life's journey has been accomplished with the help of a pipe-smoking guardian angel with dark glasses. One night I had a dream in which Joe and I were walking down a street, both of us adults, laughing and talking. A part of me knew that, as real as it seemed, this situation was impossible. So I asked him, "Am I dead, or are you alive again?" He smiled, looking at me the same way as in this photograph, and replied, "It's a little of both." Written by Theresa Danna, Sister September 2005 Sources: Theresa Danna (sister), Melanie Danna (daughter) and NJVVMF.


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