George Mussi Jr. answered the door of his Westerville home recently while wearing an Under Armour shirt emblazoned with the logo of the U.S. Marine Corps.
To hear the retired sergeant major tell it, after 30 years in the Marines, this is a common occurrence.
"I'm always wearing something," representing his service, Mussi said. "My kids keep telling me, 'Dad, you don't have any other shirts!' Every shirt I have has the Marine Corps on it. That's my whole life."
Three decades in the service will have that impact, and those 30 years also allowed Mussi -- the Blue Jackets' Elk & Elk Military Salute honoree at the season finale May 8 -- to experience plenty of things in life. He traveled the world, with his military career including a tour in Vietnam as well as posts in such locations as Japan, Italy and Hawaii. Mussi also has seen just about all Ohio has to offer, as he concluded his career in the Marines in charge of recruiting all across the state.
It's been a full life, with plenty of highs -- like his time in Hawaii, where his youngest son Anthony was born, and a place the whole family recently returned to for a visit -- and the lows that anyone who spent time in Vietnam would hope to forget. Every place he lived brings back welcome memories of camaraderie but often time away from the family, while Mussi still visits the traveling Vietnam War wall of fallen soldiers to pay tribute to those he knew who didn't come home.
It's been a full career, but one the 83-year-old Mussi looks back on with pride.
"It was a challenge but a good challenge," he said. "I'm very proud of being a Marine. You hear everybody talk about the Marine camaraderie. You hear a little bit about the Army, Air Force, Navy and all that, but when people find out you're a marine, they 'Oorah!' and all that good stuff.
"It's a brotherhood. You talk about a brotherhood, it's a real brotherhood."
While Mussi spent much of his adult life defending our country, there was no grand plan for him to do as a youngster. Growing up in an Italian family in the small village of Liverpool, N.Y., outside of Syracuse, he was a self-described average student who picked up odd jobs like a paper route as a kid. But as he grew up, he was pushed to find his passion by teachers and his parents alike.
"I recall distinctly my mother saying, 'Why don't you do something with yourself? You can't just hang around,'" Mussi said. "So one day I went down to the Marine recruiting station in downtown Syracuse. I said, 'OK, let's go to the toughest unit going.'
"After I joined, I came home. My mother was in the kitchen, my father was in the living room, and I said, 'Well mom, I did what you said. I'm going to start trying to do something, and I leave for the Marine Corps boot camp in August.' She almost passed out."
He joined up in December 1955 and went on active duty in August 1956, starting his Marines career in Florida before moving to Bermuda and then Europe. There, he was able to take part in a unique experience, as when stationed with in Corsica, filming took place for the 1962 war epic "The Longest Day," a classic movie about the Allied invasion on D-Day starring such names as John Wayne, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda and more.
"They asked us to participate in the movie," he remembers. "We had to strip all the Marine Corps stuff away from everything. It was like 'Saving Private Ryan.' We shot that over two or three days. You see all the boats floating around, a lot of people got sick, but we had the honor of participating in that. It was funny because when we were trying to do the landing you see the main stars sitting off to the side in lawn chairs. But it was interesting. It was a good time."
Orders to head all over the world followed, with orders to work in Naples, Italy, as well as Hawaii and then stints in Okinawa and Iwakuni, Japan. There was also the time spent in Vietnam, including a role as a casualty reporter for the Marine Corps. Mussi was stationed in the war-torn country when the North Vietnamese staged the Tet Offensive, further spiraling the nation into the quagmire of war.
While some of Mussi's friends didn't survive, he luckily was able to, and eventually his military career brought him to Columbus in the 1970s. During his last years of service, Mussi served as the Recruiting Sergeant Major for both Cleveland and Cincinnati Recruiting Stations of Ohio, earning honors as the top recruiting station in the nation one year he was in Cleveland.
"I wanted to take care of the people, take care of the troops," he said of his role. "I wanted to treat them like family."
His decision to leave the service after 30 years in 1985 came when he was approached by then-Columbus mayor Dana G. "Buck" Rinehart, himself a former Marine. The two met when Mussi was at a speaking engagement, with Rinehart suggesting Mussi join his staff, and he eventually did just that, serving as street operations manager and then working closely on staff with both Rinehart and his successor Greg Lashutka. He also worked as safety service director for the city of Reynoldsburg before eventually retiring.
Mussi left the service having been awarded the Navy Achievement Medal with Combat V, along with service awards including The Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon, The Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Unit Commendation Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation.
During his spare time, George remains a life member of the American Legion Department of Ohio, the VFW, AmVets, DAV and the Marine Corps League, serving in various leadership capacities. In 2020, he was appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine to the Ohio War Orphans Scholarship Board for a four-year term.
Those were honors that earned him praise during the military salute at Nationwide Arena earlier this year, a game he attended with nearly the entire family, which includes sons George and Anthony as well as daughter Jennifer. It also happened to be his wife Rosalie's birthday.
A former CBJ season ticket holder who knew club founder John H. McConnell thanks to his ties to city government, Mussi was pleased to take part in the military salute program.
"During the game I had kids come up, people you don't even know come up and thank you for your service," he said. "Being a Vietnam vet, we never had what I want to say is the luxury of coming home like the serviceperson has today. They are honored and grateful for and thankful and there are parades and recognition.
"Coming home from Vietnam, they warned us after I left Okinawa, they said, 'Hey, as soon as you hit the states, change into civilian clothes because you're not going to be liked.' It was very true."