The New Jersey Devils honored Captain Manny Manioudakis, a retired U.S. Army captain who served in Vietnam, as the team’s Hero of the Game on Halloween. Fans gave him a thunderous ovation as the team battled the New York Islanders at Prudential Center.
Capt. Manioudakis, a New Brunswick native, began his service by enrolling in the ROTC program at Rutgers University while he studied engineering. “That was the first time they had a flight training program…they taught you how to fly a small civilian aircraft, and in return, you gave four years of service after graduation.”
As a child, Manioudakis would go to the former Hadley field, where he could buy flights in the planes. “After my first time going up in an airplane, I loved it,” Manioudakis, now 78, said. After completing his service, Manioudakis became a pilot for Pan American World Airways.
Following his initial service, Capt. Manioudakis stayed in the army due to the Berlin Crisis that eventually led to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. “You couldn’t get out, so I stayed in.” Later, he served in Vietnam.
“I happened to draw the straw for 13 months in Vietnam, so I went,” said Capt. Manioudakis, who relished in the opportunity to serve and spoke about his experiences jovially. “If they told me right now to go back into the military, I’d go. That’s how much I enjoyed it.”
After completing his active duty, Capt. Manioudakis joined the New Jersey National Guard. He said he didn’t plan it like that, initially getting a civilian job in engineering. “Every time I saw an airplane flying over, I’d get homesick, so what could I do? I joined the army national guard down in Trenton, and I ended up commanding a unit down there for another eight years.”
Capt. Manioudakis considered the recognition he received from the team and the crowd to be a humbling experience. “I only deserve this as much as everyone else,” he said. “To serve your country, it means something special to me.”
“When you go into the military, you appreciate what this country gives us…As an airline pilot I travelled all over the world, and I appreciate what we have here.”