Bruce Mennella oral history interview
Table Of Contents
Bruce Mennella served in the U.S. Navy with Fighter Squadron 114 (VF-114) during the Vietnam War. He later operated a car dealership in Burien, Washington.
Bruce Edward Mennella was born on September 16, 1946 in New York City to Vincent and Madeline Mennella. His father had been a pilot in World War II, flying transport airplanes from Sand Point Naval Air Station. After the war, Vincent obtained a college degree under the GI Bill. In mid-1947, he and his family moved to Seattle, Washington, where he worked for NCM, a cash register company. In the mid-1950s, Vincent opened a Ford dealership in Burien, Washington. He also remained an active pilot in the Navy Reserves.
Mennella attended school in Burien, Washington, graduating from Highline High school in 1964. He attended the University of Washington’s School of Business. He planned on joining his family’s car business after graduation; however, the onset of the Vietnam War altered his post-graduation plans. As a sophomore, he went to a Navy recruiter and worked out a deal to enter the military after graduation. He passed the aviation written exam in order to become a pilot, but due to his eyesight, he did not pass the medical exam. Instead, he went into Air Intelligence. Graduating in June 1968, he reported to Aviation Office Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. From there, he went to Air Intelligence School at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado. While in Denver, he re-connected with Louise A. Vacca, a woman he had dated occasionally in high school who was now a flight attendant with United Airlines. They were married in 1969.
Once he had completed his training, Mennella was assigned to NAS Miramar in San Diego, California, arriving there in November 1969. VF-114 flew McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II aircraft and was reformatting after a WESTPAC cruise. He spent the next 11 months training, including flying in the back seat of VF-114 airplanes whenever possible. The USS Kitty Hawk, associated with the squadron, was at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington for refurbishing at that time.
Mennella’s first cruise was from November 1970 to July 1971 on the USS Kitty Hawk. Operating in the middle of a bombing halt and in the southern area off the coast of Vietnam, the cruise did not see a great deal of activity. Mennella worked in the Integrated Operations Information Center (IOIC), briefing and debriefing pilots on their targets. Briefings included weather conditions, rules of engagement, tanking procedures, emergency procedures, and an overview of the area of operations. In his off time, he traveled in Sasebo, Japan; Hong Kong; and Subic Bay, Philippines, where his wife was able to visit him.
Mennella’s second cruise, also on the USS Kitty Hawk, began in February 1972. This time, the carrier operated off the north coast of Vietnam and included missions going into Hanoi. Each Alpha strike took 35 to 40 airplanes in a three-operations-per-day cycle. Briefings were longer and more complex due to the area of operations. About five months into the tour, Mennella’s wife had their first child. Since Mennella’s replacement was on board, Mennella was sent home. He left the Navy in October 1972. He was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal for his first cruise and earned the Navy Commendation Medal on his second cruise.
Back in Seattle, Mennella went to work for his father’s Ford dealership. He assumed the role of general manager in 1980 and five years later bought the business. He added Isuzu and Subaru franchises shortly after. His success brought him on to the Ford National Dealer Council, where he served for two years. After that, he was elected chairman of the Northwest Ford Dealers Advertising Group covering Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska.
Mennella and his wife ultimately had three children and seven grandchildren. As of 2020, they were still living in the Seattle area.
Biographical information derived from interview and additional information provided by interviewee.