For six years, the late Joshua Piccoli was a cornerstone in the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs at Rutgers University–Camden, where he was a constant source of guidance and support for his fellow student veterans making the tough transition from active military to civilian life.
More than just a friendly and familiar face, Piccoli, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, was universally recognized by student veterans across campus as the veritable personification of loyalty, integrity, and hard work that they could all emulate.
Piccoli died unexpectedly in 2016, but his legacy will now live on with the creation of an endowed scholarship in his name.
The annual Joshua Piccoli Scholarship will be open to all student veterans enrolled at Rutgers–Camden who are participating in the student veterans group or one of the numerous programs affiliated with the Rutgers–Camden Office of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Fred Davis, director of the office, recalls that, upon Piccoli’s passing, there was an outpouring of emotion and support from all who knew him and it was only fitting to establish a scholarship to help veterans, which is what Josh loved doing and did so well.
Davis notes that while the inaugural recipients have yet to be selected, he knows just the kind of character, integrity, and participation that he’d like to see.
“I hope that these individuals mirror many of the attributes that Josh displayed each day of his life,” he says. “In Josh’s memory, we hope to award this scholarship to a caring humanitarian who gives the extra effort to assist those in need, especially veterans.”
Piccoli’s “loving and helpful” nature was even evident in his youth, recalls his mother, Carol Buckman, remembering how her son was the primary caregiver for her elderly mother, who lived with them for a time as she battled dementia.
“I guess that nurturing nature – that gentleness – is something that is inborn,” she says.
Buckman fondly remembers her middle child – between Josh’s older brother, Jason, and younger sister, Jessica Deturo – as an “easygoing kid” who was content with taking hand-me downs and always accepting of the ways things were.
“You couldn’t buy anything new for Josh,” says Buckman, recalling one Christmas when Jason wanted a new bike. “Josh said, ‘I’ll take Jason’s old bike. I think it’s cool!’”
Buckman surmises that Josh’s cooperative nature and penchant for looking out for others was brought out even more by serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and later in his role at Rutgers–Camden.
After graduating from Eastern High School in Voorhees in 1997, Piccoli had taken classes at Camden County College before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps and joining the 3rd battalion, 7th Marines, a premier infantry combat unit.
His unit was deployed to Kuwait in January 2003 and, shortly thereafter, participated in the Battle of Baghdad. Once the city was secure, the unit was moved southwest to Karbala, where they were tasked with maintaining security and stabilization in the city.
When his tour ended in September 2003, Piccoli returned to the United States and served as a physical training instructor at Officers Candidate School in Quantico, Va. He later added a second deployment in Afghanistan.
“The courage Josh exhibited demonstrates valor as an ideal that should endure in life, and the sacrifice above self is something all Americans should strive for,” says Davis. “Josh had the moral courage to do whatever tasks are at hand and need to be accomplished.”
Honorably discharged in April 2006, Piccoli returned to South Jersey and worked in several marketing jobs in the area before taking advantage of his education benefits and enrolling at Rutgers–Camden in January 2011. He promptly became the first work-study in the Veterans Affairs office, a position that he continued to hold after graduating and was attending his second year of Rutgers Law School.
“Josh excelled in that environment, where there was a genuine warmth and willingness to help,” recalls Buckman.
In his role, Piccoli regularly helped fellow veterans navigate the application process and ensured that they were in compliance with V.A. requirements. If need be, he was more than willing to go out of his way to advocate on their behalf when communicating with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
For Piccoli, it was a testament to the perpetual and unwritten bond that veterans on campus share.
“It’s like the camaraderie that you have in the military, but on a college campus,” said Piccoli, then secretary of the student veterans group at Rutgers–Camden, in a 2014 interview. “The veterans group is amazing; it’s great to have friends who you can feel comfortable with and who will be there if you need it. That goes a long way.”
Among the many student veterans whom Piccoli assisted were Tina Mikes and Mark Bodrog, who both remembered their late friend as the first person to show them around campus and came to admire his dedicated service and commitment.
As Mikes recalls, even though Piccoli worked in the Veterans Affairs office in a work-study capacity, he did so as though it was a fulltime job and became the face of the Rutgers–Camden student veterans community.
“Josh was always loyal to his fellow veterans and did what he could to assist them in any way he knew how,” says Mikes, a 2013 graduate of Rutgers–Camden and a 2016 graduate of Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “He never took shortcuts or the easy way out of things because he was led by a strong moral compass.”
Bodrog echoed the sentiment, saying that Piccoli embraced the “esprit de corps” that many student veterans miss most when they leave active service and was the link that helped to keep the student veterans group at Rutgers–Camden engaged.
“Joshua had a unique way of motivating his fellow veterans in shared camaraderie,” recalls Bodrog, a 2007 graduate of Rutgers–Camden. “He constantly pushed himself to achieve more and, by extension, he pushed his fellow veterans to achieve more and work hard for a great education and opportunities to better themselves. If the bond of the student veterans at Rutgers–Camden had an image, Joshua would be the face and the model veteran.”
The two expressed their pride that Piccoli’s memory will now be handed down through generations of student veterans at Rutgers–Camden.
“While veterans will have never known or met Joshua, his scholarship will be a testament to his personal legacy and sacrifice to ensure the success of the educational mission of student veterans,” says Bodrog.
For Buckman, she hopes that students entering Rutgers–Camden now and in the future – those whom never had the opportunity to meet her son – will find out what type of person he was and try to follow in his footsteps.
“I hope that they hear or read about him and realize how he was always there to help people,” she says, “and emulate some of the things that he did.”