The Italian American Community Loses a Great Italian American: Joseph P. Vaghi, Jr. (1920-2012)

Joseph P. Vaghi Jr., 92, a Washington, D.C. architect and decorated World War II  veteran, died  peacefully at Maplewood Park Place, Bethesda Maryland, on August 25, 2012. He lived in Kensington, Maryland, for over a half century, and practiced architecture in Bethesda, Maryland with the firm of Joseph P. Vaghi, AIA and Associates. His specialty was restoration in the city and design.

Joseph Vaghi

He was born in Bethel, Connecticut on June 27, 1920, the fourth of ten children born to Italian immigrants. He attended Providence College on a football scholarship, graduating in December of 1942, and  thereafter went to midshipman’s school at the University of Notre Dame. After the war, he graduated from the School of Architecture at The Catholic University of America.

During World War II, he served in the Navy as a platoon commander and, at 23 years old, was the youngest beachmaster with the 6th Naval Beach Battalion at the D-Day Invasion on Omaha Beach, Easy Red Sector, in Normandy on June 6, 1944. His dedication to those men is legendary. Wounded on D-Day, he saved many lives after removing two gasoline cans and several boxes of hand grenades from a burning jeep. The role of beachmaster was later described as being like “a traffic cop in hell.”  For his heroism and bravery, he was awarded the Bronze Star. In the spring of 1945, he volunteered to serve in the Pacific theatre with a battalion that invaded Okinawa. His role as beachmaster and the heroism of the 6th Naval Beach Battalion were featured in The War, a documentary produced by Ken Burns.

He was honorably discharged from the  Navy  in 1947 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander and served in the naval reserves until 1959. In February, 2012, he was awarded the Legion of Honor “Chevalier” Award, at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., France’s highest civilian award, for his heroism and personal contribution to the liberation of France during World War II.

He was married to Agnes E. Vaghi for 57 years. She predeceased him in 2004. Together they were founding members of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). They were co-chairs of the Cardinal’s Appeal for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1987. He was an active member in the John Carroll Society, for which a scholarship is named after him and his wife. He was a past president of the Lido Civic Club. He was Fourth Degree, Knights of Columbus. In addition, he was a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. For his tireless service and devotion to the Church, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award from Blessed John Paul II in 1991.

Survivors include four sons, Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi, Pastor of the Little Flower Church in Bethesda, Maryland, Vincent J. Vaghi, M.D. of Potomac, Nino Vaghi of Kensington and Joseph P. Vaghi III of Potomac, two daughters-in-law, Jeanne Barbera Vaghi, M.D., and Mary Burns Vaghi and six grandchildren. He is also survived by two sisters, Dina Ceriani of Milan, Italy and Beatrice Barzetti of Cape Carteret, North Carolina.