(NEWS10) - It's the kind of story Hollywood would write. Two men growing up in different cities of the Capital Region ... the only thing they had in common was they both knew what they wanted to be from an early age.
The decisions they made to achieve their dreams put them on a path to pass in battle and later share the "Bonds of Rescue."
Mike Parisi's journey to the 82nd Airborne started in Amsterdam, "What I wanted to be was a paratrooper and that's what I became." In Amsterdam he tells us, “Everybody knows each other, you walk down the block, you know who everybody is, it's a great place to live."
Meanwhile, not that far away, Dr. Louis Ianniello was enjoying his childhood in Mechanicville. “It’s a great town, it's almost like one big family,” he recalls. He was giving up on one dream, to be an NFL running back, but he had another. "Medicine was always the other dream and I was lucky enough to follow my dream, and my dream led me to Grenada and my first semester there became a bit of a nightmare."
Nightmare doesn't begin to describe what happened after he started medical school in Grenada in 1983. The prime minister of the small Caribbean island and part of his cabinet executed in a coup, scores of civilians killed protesting. Ianniello and the other American students were under a curfew when an armed patrol pulled onto their campus. Dr. Ianniello says, “And I remember one of the guys taunting me he said come on out here, I'm happy to shoot you. Right after that chaos became the norm."
As the situation worsened, U.S. troops were getting ready to evacuate the American medical students. Mike Parisi remembers his base is starting to become active on a Sunday night, “Which is unusual, and I knew then we were going somewhere. So I had enough sense to write my parents a letter, I called them and said we're deploying if something was to happen to me, I wrote you guys a letter." Lydia Kulbida asked Parisi, "So it was called Operation Urgent Fury?” He said yes and pointed to a map, “I landed right here at Point Salinas and you can see the students were kept in all different areas."
The dangers of war were everywhere. "My first impression was the gunpowder,” Parisi remembers of landing at the airport in Grenada, “the smell of gunpowder, so this was an active battle space." Dr. Ianniello was hiding in his room, "I remember hearing the sounds, and looking up and seeing red tracer bullets flying through the campus and I jumped on the floor and I remember thinking this is nothing like the movies. Approximately 5 hours into that battle a U.S. Army Ranger, this was like the movies, kicked in the door and said "U.S. Ranger, we're here to take you home" and that was a great moment." To this day, Dr. Ianniello feels a deep debt of gratitude to the U.S. military. Parisi says, "These were just kids, kids getting caught in the crossfire, something they didn't realize what was happening, and we got them back home."
But this isn't where their story ends, as back home Louis finished medical school and started practicing in Schenectady, while Mike left the Army and started a fitness career. More than 20 years after their paths crossed on a battlefield, Mike ended up in Doctor Lou's office … as his patient. After his first visit Parisi tells us, "When I went to see him the next time, I brought some pictures with me and I had them all laid out on the table, and he walked in and he looked at them and he said, you were one of the guys who came and got us and I said yes I was.” He laughs, “I know he takes care of all of his patients but I believe he takes a little bit of extra care of me."
Their visits are more than just checkups, they share the same philosophy on exercise and nutrition as preventive medicine. Dr. Ianniello looks forward to their discussions, "I think in a way we're still kind of tandem, we have the same goals like we did back then, get the hell out of there." Parisi also enjoys the bond they’ve forged, "It's not very often that you get to meet someone that you rescued let alone create a relationship with them so it's very special, it's very special for me.” While their friendship is special, what weighs heavily on Parisi's mind is the loss of 19 service members during the mission ... he says it's something he thinks about daily.