Iori Longo usually never remembers faces, let alone names, but everything about Marine Sgt. Joseph Longo III at that concert in Okinawa, Japan, the night of Sept. 17, 2010, stayed with her.
“The first time I saw him, I just felt something different,” Iori said. “I didn't know what it was. Something felt special.”
Joseph Longo III felt the same, even if he was too tongue-tied to say as much.
“Anyone could tell you that I'm usually not shy to talk to anybody,” the 2005 graduate said. “But when I saw her, I couldn't put two words together.”
In love, sometimes no words are necessary. Sometimes, as his parents explained when he raved about Iori, you just know.
This past Dec. 23, Maria and Joseph Longo met their daughter-in-law for the first time. This Friday, they will watch their Joseph III and Iori renew their vows before a small group of family and friends at that will be officiated by Deputy Mayor Steve Rovell.
Before then, the Friends of Joseph Longo III – led by Board President Richard Yannuzzi and Barbara Freda, wife of trustee Bill Freda – threw the returning native son and his wife a welcome home dinner Wednesday night at the that doubled as a fundraiser to help the newlyweds pay for Friday's ceremony. Fourth Ward Councilman John Notari even read a proclamation praising the returning Marine for his service.
“I'm overwhelmed. I feel like the story has a happy ending,” Marie Longo said. “I love the woman he chose to make his wife and give his name to.”
When Joseph Longo III graduated from Belleville High School, he first considered attending nearby Montclair State University to become a music teacher. Instead, the talented bassist successfully auditioned to become a member of the Marine Corps band, a gig that has enabled him to play the St. Patrick's Day parades in New York and Boston, a pair of National Football League games and the Kentucky Derby.
After being stationed in Cherry Point, N.C., for boot camp, Longo was deployed to Iraq from January-September 2007. He returned to the States before his next tour of duty took him to Okinawa, Japan – a city which, like Belleville, is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms.
Although they first met Sept. 17, 2010, their first official date came on Jan. 11, 2011, after they tried to take things slow. Longo met Iori's young son, Ian, soon after and immediately bonded with the toddler. Iori kept thinking she wanted to see him exclusively, but Longo thought about their future and told he wanted them to become a family.
“I just went right to the point,” said Longo, whose application to formally adopt Ian is pending.
Since they had only dated for five months, Joseph Longo played the part of skeptical parent – upon hearing about his son's marriage proposal, one of his first responses was: Is she pregnant? After being assured that this would be no shotgun wedding, the father and Belleville BOE trustee made sure his son knew what to expect while inheriting what he called “an instant family.”
After getting married in Okinawa, Japan, on Sept. 7, 2011 – a ceremony Joseph Longo III did not understand since it was performed entirely in Iori's native Japanese – the newlyweds and Ian, 2, planned for Iori's first trip to meet her husband's family.
Although they spoke several times by phone and via Skype, Iori admitted feeling jittery about seeing her in-laws for the first time. Soon after landing Dec. 23, however, she said her nervousness “melted away.”
Best of all, Belleville suits her. “I really like this town,” she said.
On Wednesday night, she saw the best of Belleville. More than 100 people filed into the Knights of Columbus to welcome home Marine Sgt. Joseph Longo III and meet Iori and Ian. Mayor Ray Kimble, Third Ward Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli and several Board of Education members showed their support, while several of those on hand donated to help the newlyweds enjoy their wedding ceremony Friday.
The Longos will return to Okinawa on Sunday night. Longo is awaiting his next assignment that will likely keep him in the Land of the Rising Sun through 2015. However, when he looks into the future – much as both he and his wife did upon meeting each other – he could see a return to his roots.
“In the end, I'm pretty sure we'll end up coming back to Belleville,” Longo said.