One of Joseph Bargiuk’s regrets in life is that he never served his country.
The 71-year-old Hicksville resident had many older friends who served in World War II. During the Vietnam War Bargiuk was given a high draft number, and was exempted from service because his wife, Dorothy, became pregnant. The guilt from not serving turned into a special appreciation for veterans. One vet he befriended was his dermatologist, Dr. Raymond A. Havrilla, whose practice was on Newbridge Road in the hamlet.
“He was on the USS Wichita,” said Bargiuk, who spent years listening to Havrilla talk about his wartime experiences as an Army doctor, which included the Normandy invasion. “He said he became a dermatologist because he couldn’t bear to see any more blood.”
Along with difficult memories, Havrilla came off the beach with his M-1 carbine, a standard-issue, semi-automatic .30-caliber rifle. Bargiuk said in 2006 Havrilla sold him the rifle and gave him a good deal. Bargiuk researched the weapon and learned it was worth up to $40,000, substantially more than what he paid for it. So he tried to give it back.
“He said ‘OK, Joe. You hold on to it, but we’ll keep it together,’” Bargiuk said of Havrilla.
In 2008 Havrilla died at the age of 89, and Bargiuk wanted the rifle to go someplace where it would be appreciated. So he donated it to the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Penn. The gun was cleaned up at the school’s U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, but Department of Defense officials at the Pentagon showed interest in Havrilla’s rifle before the college could put it on display. It was moved to a display in a secure wing of the Pentagon.
Col. John R. Dabrowski, director of academic engagement at the War College, is a childhood friend of Bargiuk’s, the pair having hunted together on the New Jersey farm of Bargiuk’s aunt. Dabrowski told him that the rifle had been moved, and Bargiuk wanted to see the rifle displayed at the Pentagon.
Officials denied Bargiuk’s initial requests to see it because of the rifle’s secure location, so Bargiuk reached out to U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Massapequa) for help.
“It’s a great story -- no good deed goes unpunished” King said, chuckling. “We wrote a letter. I mean, he wasn’t asking for anything except to look at it.”
Pentagon officials agreed to give Bargiuk a special tour. Bargiuk, Dorothy, 68, and Debrowski saw the World War II gun mounted in a 20-foot wide glass case in April of 2009.
“It looked nice,” he said. “It should be moved downstairs where everyone can see it, but oh yeah, there’s a sense of pride.”
A wheelchair-bound veteran of Omaha Beach, who Bargiuk only knew as Jim, also was invited on the tour by someone at the Pentagon.
“He thanked me,” Bargiuk said of Jim. “It should have been the other way around.”