Sometimes, friendship begins at the most unexpected places.

In 1981, two young men sat in the waiting area of the Military Entrance Processing Station in Pittsburgh, waiting to take the oath of enlistment to train as Army medics.

Recruits generally spend a whole day at MEPS. During one of the waiting periods, the two struck up a conversation.

A recruiter noticed the two guys hitting it off, understood they both wanted to be medics and asked them if they wanted to enlist together under the buddy system. They said yes and started a 40-year friendship that took John Campbell and John Mongelluzzo from Army medic school to Pittsburgh VA where they both now work.

Pittsburgh VA recently recognized Campbell and Mongelluzzo, both 59, with service awards. Campbell, an occupational safety and health specialist, received his 30-year service award and Mongelluzzo, an RN in the Impact Clinic, was awarded for 40 years of service.

So much for the buddy system

After taking the oath of enlistment together in 1981, the two trained as medics at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. They were supposed to go to their next duty station together, but the Army had other ideas.

“We were getting ready to graduate and John got called out of formation. When he came back, he had a big smile on his face,” said Mongelluzzo. “He said ‘I’m going to Walter Reed.’ Well, he did, and I went to a field unit at Fort Hood.”

For the next 12 years, the two lost track of each other. Then, one day in 1993, Campbell, who was working as a fire safety and training contractor at VA Pittsburgh, was walking down a hallway to start fire extinguisher inspections when he ran into Mongelluzzo, who was working in transportation.

Two years later, Campbell quit his contracting position and became a VA Pittsburgh employee. He always made it a point to visit Mongelluzzo when doing inspections. Both men still catch up while working when they can. Outside of work, they went on a few fishing trips together. Still, they found it difficult to meet each other outside of the job.

“We live on different sides of Pittsburgh so it’s hard to get together with family and things going on,” said Campbell.

But there was one more coincidence when Pittsburgh VA’s acting director, Denise Boehm, presented the two men with their service awards. Boehm previously served as a VA Pittsburgh primary care nurse at the same time as Mongelluzzo.

“It just shows that everything comes full circle,” said Mongelluzzo.

By Keith Gottschalk is a public affairs specialist at the Pittsburgh VA

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Published on May. 15, 2022

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