Neil Iovino was born Jan. 3, 1918 in Chicago, Illinois. He noticed a sign when he was working for the Chicago & Northwestern railroad, offering adventure, travel and education to those who joined the U.S. Marines. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1939. While stationed in San Diego he volunteered to fill a request for those willing to go to Shanghai, China. He became a member of the Fourth Marines, and he served as a chauffeur to a general and to help protect the 25,000 Americans that lived in China. He received thirty American dollars backed by gold in reward.
After the Pearl Harbor Invasion, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the marines to evacuate the Americans from Shanghai. Then his unit departed for the Philippines. Neil Iovino became the first Marine wounded while defending the Olongapo Navy Base.
Neil said he had been told to take good care of his rifle and he credits his 1903 Springfield for saving his life. In an aerial bomb attack he used the rifle to break his fall. Shrapnel struck his rifle and he was hit in the abdomen, the impact knocking him on his back. He waited for help.
Two Marines picked him up and took him to Riverside Cabaret, which had been turned into a hospital. Dr. Wade performed an appendecostomy on Iovino and the miracle operation saved his life. He had not completely healed when he found out he would be marching in the Bataan Death March. He made it for ten miles, and then was thrown in a boxcar and sent to Bilibid Prison. He stayed there for a year. Next he went to Cabanatuan where he suffered from malaria, beriberi, dysentery and pellagra. With nothing but rice morning, noon and night he had little in the ways of vitamins. Despite his injuries, he cheered up others in the camp and always believed his rescuers would come.
Neil felt his short stature helped him with his Japanese guards. He said they usually picked on people who were taller than they were.
He went out on a work detail to Nichols Field and after loading and pushing a truck his hip collapsed. This helped him as he was now taken back to Cabanatuan where the Sixth Rangers of the U.S. Army commanded by Col. Mucchi rescued him.
After Neil Iovino came back to the states he helped promote the film Back to Bataan with Anthony Quinn. Iovino and the others appearing in the film at the end of the movie traveled to the towns the movie was to be shown in to promote the movie. He also gave speeches around the country promoting war bonds. Finally, with the pressure of returning back to a country that had changed while he was gone and dealing with the strain of his POW experience, he needed additional medical care.
He married soon after his return from Bethesda and married a childhood friend Laura who helped him back to health. In Knollwood, he bought a home and operated a grocery store with this. They then located to Lake Bluff and then to Highland Park, where he worked as a postman and a printer for the Chicago Daily News and next the Sun-Times.
He also worked for the Aon Corp. of Chicago for ten years.
He raised four girls and a boy. He made sure the children knew of the war and built a war museum in their basement. He also worked for the ADBC and the American Legion. He became a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans. He also belonged to the American Ex-Prisoners of War, Military Order of the Cooties, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4737 and the Chicago Typographical Union No. 16/CWA 14408.
In 1967 he returned to the Philippines to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of Bataan. The Philippine Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor hosted close to 500 veterans who revisited the scenes that had once been a source of great distress. President Marcos gave them the Presidential Citation for the Defense of the Philippine Islands and the Philippine Liberation Medal.
His awards include the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart with the Gold Star that he cherished the most.
Neil Iovino died at the age of 90, on Oct. 4, 2008.