At the height of the Vietnam War, Joe Piscopo and his father had a life-changing conversation.
“I was the worst student ever in high school. I got kicked out so many times. But my father was great, he got me through. Then he wanted me to go to college,” Piscopo recalled.
Piscopo wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the military.
“He says, ‘You’re going to go to Vietnam, and I know you, you’re not going to go to officer training school, they’re going to put you right on the front line,’” Piscopo said. But the elder Piscopo, a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, had seen the horrors of war and didn’t want his son to serve.
So Joe Piscopo went back to Jones College in Jacksonville, Fla., where he studied television and radio. He went on to star on “Saturday Night Live” from 1980-84, appear in movies including “Johnny Dangerously,” “Wise Guys,” and “Dead Heat,” and host his own talk radio show on weekday mornings on AM 970 in New York City.
And on May 14 in Woodstock, Ill., Piscopo, who said he “always, always” regretted not serving in the military, honored his late father’s service by joining the Sons of The American Legion squadron at Post 491 in nearby McHenry.
His induction into the SAL took place at the gazebo in Woodstock’s town square where scenes from the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” were shot. Piscopo and former “American Idol” contestant Haley Reinhart performed later in the day at the Woodstock Opera House in a fundraiser for Post 491.
The fundraiser came about through the efforts of Post 491 Legionnaire Mike Kerry, who works for Piscopo’s booking agent. Once Post 491 members realized Piscopo’s eligibility to join the SAL, the idea of an induction ceremony in connection with the show came about.
“We’re very honored, he’s very excited to be a member of the squadron and be part of the Legion Family, so it’s going to be a real positive,” said Squadron 491 Commander Russ Hyatt. “… We hope this will bring some energy to the Legion Family.”
SAL National Commander Michael Fox, Detachment of Illinois Commander Jeff Trout, and other officials participated in the induction ceremony.
Fox said coming to Woodstock was “a privilege … in itself.”
“And then to have someone like Joe Piscopo that’s just so engaged with the veterans, to be on our side in fighting the good fight to protect our veterans and their kids, to want to become a member is huge. And using the things that he does with his shows to help promote The American Legion Family is going to be so beneficial, not only to the millions of members that are in the American Legion Family but those average citizens to help spread the word. It’s amazing to be asked to be part of this endeavor,” Fox said.
Piscopo also was happy to make the trip to small-town America.
“This is America. Not what you see that’s out there. Not the lectures that we get out of Washington,” he said. “We are one nation under God, this is the greatest country on planet Earth, they’re not going to take us down. They don’t understand this. I don’t think that they come to great places like Woodstock, Ill., and understand the strength and the goodness of the American people. That’s who we are, on God’s green Earth, and I’m so proud to be here.”
Before reflecting on his new membership, Piscopo made a quick call to his mom to let her know he was now officially a Son of The American Legion.
“I’m here in the name of my father, and certainly my mother,” he said. “… (And) in the name of my father, Captain Joseph P. Piscopo, who couldn’t speak English when he first went to school, and his parents, my grandparents, who came from Italy to experience one of the greatest things a human being can experience on Earth, and that is to become an American.”
And Piscopo had one more thing to share about his father, who passed away in 2002.
“He was supposed to be a major, he got commissioned, but he called himself a captain, (I asked) can we put ‘major’ on his gravestone? So we did, it says Major Joseph P. Piscopo.
“I got Pop the upgrade.”