Military

Mystery Marine Corps General Commandeers Plane for Funeral

January 17, 2023Noelle Wiehe
Marine 1st Lt. Nicholas “Nick” P. Manganiello, 25, a student at Marine Aviation Training Support Group-22 at US Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, died on Dec. 11, 2022. His body was flown home to New York’s Long Island for burial on Dec. 27. Photos courtesy of Douglas Manganiello. Composite by Kenna Lee/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Marine 1st Lt. Nicholas “Nick” P. Manganiello, 25, a student at Marine Aviation Training Support Group-22 at US Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, died on Dec. 11, 2022. His body was flown home to New York’s Long Island for burial on Dec. 27. Photos courtesy of Douglas Manganiello. Composite by Kenna Lee/Coffee or Die Magazine.

With canceled Southwest Airlines flights and a brutal blizzard snarling air traffic nationwide, a grieving family awaited the body of their son, a Marine Corps lieutenant killed in a Texas motor vehicle accident.

The Corps won’t say who the flag officer was, but he cut through miles of red tape by commandeering a KC-130J Super Hercules plane and flying the slain 1st Lt. Nicholas Paul “Nick” Manganiello, 25, home to New York for the funeral.

“A Marine Corps general reached out and he made sure,” Douglas Manganiello, 55, told Coffee or Die Magazine. “He sent a [plane] to Corpus Christi, Texas, just to bring my son home and had him flown by himself with a friend of my son's as an escort to Long Island MacArthur Airport.”

“We can confirm that the event happened,” Capt. Danielle Phillips, a spokesperson for the Corps’ Training and Education Command, said without elaborating further.

Marine Corps

Marine 1st Lt. Nicholas “Nick” P. Manganiello, 25, a student at Marine Aviation Training Support Group-22 at US Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, died on Dec. 11, 2022. His body was flown home to New York’s Long Island for burial on Dec. 27, 2022. Photo courtesy of Douglas Manganiello. Composite by Kenna Lee/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials told Coffee or Die that 1st Lt. Manganiello died on Dec. 11, 2022, in Nueces County at roughly 12:45 a.m.

The Marine, a student assigned to Marine Aviation Training Support Group-22 at US Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, was driving his Yamaha motorcycle on Farm to Market Road 665 east of Petronila after dinner with his co-pilot at a nearby IHOP.

Troopers suspect the driver of a Ford-150 pickup truck motoring in the opposite direction drifted into Mangeniello’s lane, colliding with him.

Authorities haven’t identified the truck driver, but he was transported to Corpus Christi Medical Center Bay Area, where he refused treatment and left the facility.

No charges have been filed.

Marine Corps

The casket of Marine 1st Lt. Nicholas “Nick” P. Manganiello, 25, a student at Marine Aviation Training Support Group-22, at US Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, was flown home to New York’s Long Island for burial on Dec. 27, 2022. Photos courtesy of Douglas Manganiello.

The mystery Marine flag officer piloting the cargo plane landed at roughly 4 p.m. on Dec. 27 in Ronkonkoma, and cops escorted the casket to the funeral home in Northport.

Mourners flocked to the nearby St. Philip Neri Catholic Church for his funeral three days later. Burial followed at Pinelawn Memorial Park and Arboretum in Farmingdale.

The sea stories told by his father, Douglas Manganiello, a US Navy veteran who fought in World War II, sparked Nick’s interest in the Corps.

“He wanted to continue that lineage that somebody from this generation had to be in the military. So, he chose it to be him,” said Douglas Manganiello.

Marine Corps

The casket of Marine 1st Lt. Nicholas “Nick” P. Manganiello, 25, a student at Marine Aviation Training Support Group-22, at US Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, was flown home to New York’s Long Island for burial on Dec. 27, 2022. US Marine Corps photo.

But Nick didn’t start off as an officer. He was a mustang who finished his studies as a sergeant at the University of Buffalo in “basically two years,” his father recalled.

Commissioned in 2019 through Officers Candidate School, Manganiello dreamed of flying Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, maybe even earning a slot in the Marine astronaut program. That’s why he began studying Russian, in case it was needed on the International Space Station.

The Corps posthumously awarded the lieutenant his “Wings of Gold,” designating him as a Naval Aviator.

“So he was buried with his wings. That’s what he wanted,” his dad said.

Marine Corps

Marine 1st Lt. Nicholas “Nick” P. Manganiello, 25, with Harley, the daughter of his girlfriend, Nicole Smith. Manganiello died on Dec. 11, 2022, in Texas. Photos courtesy of Douglas Manganiello.

Douglas Manganiello lives in Bourne, Massachusetts. For the past decade, he’s driven his motorcycle in “Big Nick’s Ride for the Cape Cod Fallen,” a fundraiser that aids local charities while paying homage to Marine Cpl. Nick Xiarhos and 15 other service members from the peninsula who died in the line of duty.

A roadside bomb detonated on Xiarhos’ vehicle on July 23, 2009, in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, killing him.

When the corporal’s father, Massachusetts State Rep. Steven G. Xiarhos, heard that Doug Manganiello lost his son, he reached out to him.

“No one taught us. No one came to me. You're just in shock,” Xiarhos told Coffee or Die. “Even if they did, I don't even remember. We were crushed, and we survived by friends and creating that ride. Now, we have the strength to go and visit people when they're destroyed and try to show them that you will survive.”

Marine Corps

Marine 1st Lt. Nicholas “Nick” P. Manganiello, 25, a student at Marine Aviation Training Support Group-22, at US Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, with his girlfriend, Nicole Smith, and her daughter, Harley. Manganiello died on Dec. 11, 2022, in Texas. Photo courtesy of Douglas Manganiello.

Xiarhos told Manganiello that he knew he was hurting, but his primary mission now was to “lay your son to rest with honor. You only have one chance to do this right.”

“He's a fucking Marine, and we need to take care of him,” Xiarhos said. “And we did.”

Nicholas Paul Manganiello was born on Nov. 5, 1997, in Northport, New York, to Rosemary and Douglas Manganiello.

He is survived by his parents; his brother, Anthony; his grandparents, Carole-Mary and Paul Kelley; his girlfriend, Nicole Smith; and her 3-year-old daughter, Harley.

“He was always happy, always had a smile on his face,” Douglas Manganiello said. “It could be something shitty going on in his life, and he still always found time to make you laugh, make you feel upbeat.”

Read Next: Cops: Marine Corps Recruiters Nab 2 Robbery Suspects, Foil Gem Heist

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

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