BY MARIA SONNENBERG, Senior Life/Viera Voice – Jun 2, 2022
Carmen Nizzi-Santiago smiles when she sees husband Juan Santiago walking around with the medals he has received for exemplary military service.
“He sounds like he is wearing a cowbell,” Nizzi-Santiago said jokingly.
Retired Army Sgt. First Class Santiago sounds even louder these days, now that he has added the Order of St. Michael to a collection that includes the Order of St. Maurice from the National Infantry Association and two Purple Hearts, not to mention being one of only three Brevard residents to be inducted into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.
Santiago received his latest kudos in April. The Order of St. Michael, awarded by the Army Aviation Association of America, recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly to the promotion of Army aviation.
Santiago’s award celebrates his service during the Vietnam War, when he was gunner aboard helicopters and served as crew chief on the spirited fixed-wing, two-engine U-21 planes in support of the CIA and other special operations.
“My husband was in Vietnam for a total of five years, but he spent the last two-and-a-half in aviation,” Nizzi-Santiago said.
Part of Santiago’s job involved ascertaining that some very valuable top brass traveled safely.
“I flew with Gen. Westmoreland and Gen. Abrams,” Santiago said.
Gen. William Westmoreland was commander of United States forces during the Vietnam War period of 1964 to 1968. General Creighton Abrams Jr. commanded military operations in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972.
The Order of St. Michael is named after the archangel who wages war against evil. The iconic image of St. Michael slaying the dragon is emblazoned in the award to exemplify the bravery of the recipient.
Santiago not only served Army aviation with valor and distinction, but his military service also included significant contributions to the infantry, earning him the Order of St. Maurice. The namesake for the award was a Roman functionary who refused the order for his Theban Legion to kill innocent civilians and to offer pagan sacrifices. He, along with his troops, were executed.
Santiago, a resident of Indian River Colony Club, was part of the 2019 Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame. At the time, he was the second veteran from Brevard to receive the honor.
A native of Puerto Rico, the 81-year-old Santiago served in the Army for 22 years.
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