Veteran Bill Vidito, pictured at the Veterans Services Collaborative in Newhall, explains his role in the Army Intelligence Corps. Vidito held the rank of E-5 sergeant when he was honorably discharged in 1997. Lorena Mejia/The Signal

Bill Vidito — Gulf War-Era Veteran — U.S. Army — Stevenson Ranch

It’s always the people you least expect. 

As you sit in front of Bill Vidito, you notice a handful of things: a collared shirt, unwrinkled, but with Hawaiian patterns and flip flops; not a hair is out of place on his head; and his gold wedding band shines brilliantly on his finger.

He’s kind: You can tell by the way he alters his voice when talking about sensitive subjects from his time in the military, or when he apologizes profusely if he thinks he’s wronged you. He has soft eyes, hidden behind introspective glasses, and his smile creases on one side while pushing the other up.

However, underneath this demeanor is a man who has learned various languages in order to help American soldiers in combat. There’s a man who could, at one time, be the stereotypical Army sergeant recruiting a wide-eyed high school graduate into joining the Army. There’s a man who learned, as a U.S. Army interrogator, how to be surgically precise in dissecting a person’s wants and desires and promise those to them in exchange for beneficial information. 

But before you ask him about any of those things, Bill Vidito will tell you he’s a “quiet, nerdy” type of guy.

Early life

Vidito was born May 4, 1967, in Sandusky, Ohio, to Donald and Betty Vidito, a former member of the military and a hotel manager, respectively.

While his mother worked in a hotel, Vidito’s father did a little bit of everything, he said. Working previously as a dental hygienist in the military, Donald Vidito had been spared the frequent fate of soldiers in Vietnam.

“God spared him of going,” said Vidito, adding that his father did “whatever he could” after leaving the military to put food on the table for his three children.

One of those three children was Bill, the middle child with two sisters.

“I had all the chores as the only boy,” Vidito said, then jokingly mimicked his parents who would say, “Girls are so dainty.”

When he wasn’t mowing the lawn or chopping wood in either northern Ohio or Indiana — where his family lived for a short period — Vidito could be found playing outside, generally with friends who enjoyed bike riding.

“The Facebook for us, where we would check in with friends to see what they were doing, was to find out where all the bikes where at.”

He speaks fondly of Indiana, calling it the “Heartbeat of America.” He says this stems from Ohio, especially Sandusky, being an industrial town where being a part of a union was everything.

Donald Vidito was not a part of a union.

“We’d come out of church, and all four of our (car’s) tires would be slashed,” he said. “So, I liked Indiana. It was the perfect cross-section of America.”

By the time he had gotten to Fremont Ross High School, where the mascot was a purple and white “Little Giant,” Vidito developed a love for a new and pioneering technology: personal computers.

“I was quite a nerdy kid,” he said. “I was always at the computer lab.”

Vidito said he also played football and ran track, “because it’s Ohio,” but his true passion was always in the lab, after school, on his Commodore 64, playing some of the very first video games ever created.

“It kept me out of trouble,” he said. “I was always the kind of quiet, nerdy guy.”

Fort Huachuca, Arizona, headquarters of the U.S. Army Information Systems Command, where Vidito trained to be an interrogator.
Photo courtesy of the National Archives

Service 

Between his junior and senior years, like his father and his grandfather before him, Vidito walked into an Army recruiter’s office. And, a little over three weeks after walking in his cap and gown at his high school graduation on June 2, 1985, Vidito was officially in the Army.

“Boom, 23 days out of high school, ready to start my life.”

When asked about his time in basic, Vidito said, “We got a lot to eat, which is good,” but that’s where “the good” basically ends for the greenhorns.

“Everyone hates basic when you’re there.”

Vidito, if you ask him about his first introduction to the armed forces, after having spent his teenage years being the geeky kid weighing 127 pounds on the football field, the thing that sticks out in his mind is Sgt. Bevil, a lisped shouter of a drill sergeant.

“He used to say, ‘My name is Bevil and that rhymes with devil.’”

After completing basic, Vidito was sent off to learn his military occupational specialty, or MOS, as a 98 Golf, or voice interceptor. He was sent to Monterey in order to learn Vietnamese.

However, after failing to meet the requirements to be considered for a final position as a voice translator, despite passing all of the tests but not being able to stand out as a member of the Army on an Air Force-run test, Vidito was then sent to become an Army interrogator.

The job was simple: learn how to make people tell you the exact thing they’ve been trained never to tell anyone.

Debriefer

Vidito said that the testing, as a member of the Army Intelligence Corps, was an arduous process. Classroom sessions, memorization, tests and the constant scope of scrutiny from his superior officers.

“There’s 10 days of testing before you can become an official interrogator,” Vidito said, adding that he had been told days one through seven were going to be relatively easy compared to the last three.

For the first week, he applied all those things he had learned from his classroom sessions. He basically explained that “can” became his most favorite and important word in his interrogation room lexicon.

“You want to call your family? I can help you with that,” he said, adding other examples that pitted him as the good guy in the room, even though the suspect was in his custody. “I’m going to want to step in between you and the fear.”

According to Vidito, there were more than a dozen different strategies to use within three different categories of triggers, examples being “hate of your own kind” or “love of country,” that he would use in order to get information out of a hostile agent.

However, these skills would not be put to use in the “real world,” as he puts it, as Vidito was soon, once again, sent off, but this time to New Jersey to be a debriefer.

“Whenever anyone (in the armed services) would travel, I would debrief them,” he said. When, for instance, the Army Corps of Engineers visited a country like Thailand or the Phillipines to build a bridge or dig a clean water well, between their trips they’d meet with a debriefer like Vidito, who would gather information from them. And, say, if the engineers went to a country like Laos, which Vidito described as “not an enemy, but definitely not a friend,” he would collect information from the engineers traveling to and from as well.

“I got to travel all the world … I loved the travel.”

Bill Vidito and his wife, Maureen, adopted their two children, Nathan, 13, and Michaela, 11.
Courtesy Photo

After the service

After leaving the Intelligence Collection Branch in 1995, Vidito became a recruiter for the Army, a job that he did for two years before eventually deciding to call it quits in 1997. He said he didn’t really appreciate the life and technique of a recruiter.

“For as bad as the last two years were, I’d do the first 10 over and over again,” he said. 

On Aug. 1 1997, after 12 years in the Army, Vidito was honorably discharged as an E-5 Sergeant.

In the early 2000s he met his wife Maureen, and together they would go on to adopt two children. 

Vidito created his own business in Ohio, before eventually deciding to move out to California with his family. He has worked in a variety of jobs and, now, instead of traversing the globe, goes home to spend time with his family after a long day’s work.

When asked if he regretted any of his choices, or would he still join the Army if he knew that he would be trained in two MOSs but would never practice them against an enemy, he says there’s no question in his mind.

“It was worth it.”

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