Goodbye to a pioneer: Richard "Dick" Armellino, 1920–2010

Dick Armellino's company — American Body Armor — was one of the first to use Kevlar in body armor, selling an all-Kevlar 15-layer vest 1975

You may have never heard of Dick Armellino, but if you’ve ever worn body armor, you’ve benefitted from his work, and now his legacy. Armellino, who died quietly and peacefully on October 4, 2010 at his home in Jacksonville (Fl.), was truly a pioneer in the field.

Concealable body armor hasn’t always been made of synthetic fibers like Kevlar. Dick Armellino’s company — American Body Armor — marketed a model made of quilted nylon with steel inserts in 1969, several years before Kevlar made its appearance on the body armor horizon. The armor was called the “Barrier Vest” and was sold by Smith & Wesson. The vest was considered by most to be too bulky and heavy for day-to-day patrol work, but was used during high-risk operations.

Armellino was one of the first to use Kevlar in body armor, selling an all-Kevlar 15-layer vest called the K-15 in 1975. The K-15 incorporated a steel “Shok Plate” positioned over the wearer’s heart to reduce the effect of blunt force trauma. He applied for and received U.S. Patent No. 3,971,072 for this invention. The founder of a competing company and his product became somewhat better known for demonstrating his merchandise by shooting himself while wearing it, but Armellino was first to get Kevlar onto police officer’s backs.

He was a classic representative of what has come to be called our Greatest Generation. In World War II, he flew B-24 “Liberator” bombers from San Giovanni Airfield in Italy with the 455th Bomb Group, the unit that was the focus of Stephen Ambrose’s book The Wild Blue. He voluntarily returned to service during the Korean War, flying covert missions inserting South Korean “White Tiger” agents behind North Korean lines. He left the service with a Distinguished Flying Cross, several Air Medals with Oak Leaf Clusters, and numerous commendations. He continued to fly until he was 82 and reluctantly surrendered his pilot’s license.

His inventions weren’t limited to police body armor. Armellino also developed bullet resistant partitions for taxi cabs, protecting drivers and deterring robberies.

American Body Armor was sold in 1984. The company is now part of BAE Systems, one of many military and law enforcement companies that were acquired in stages by BAE. Two of Armellino’s sons have become industry leaders themselves. Steve Armellino became President and CEO of U.S. Armor Corporation and Rick Armellino CEO and Director of Baker Ballistics, LLC.

Dick Armellino is survived by his wife, Jean, sons Greg, Rick, Steve and Gary, three daughters-in-law, eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and two beloved dogs. The family plans to have a memorial service with full military honors around the Thanksgiving holiday, which would have been his 90th birthday.

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