By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
GREENVILLE — They are 17 names that will forever be etched in the collective memory of Greene County.
The county turned out in force Saturday morning to pay tribute to the 17 residents who died in the Vietnam War and for the dedication of the new Greene County Vietnam Veterans Monument.
The monument, constructed next to the pond at Veterans Park at the intersection of Routes 81 and 32, includes a black granite monument engraved with the names of the county’s 17 fallen troops, a Bronze Battlefield Cross and a towering 80-foot flagpole.
Master of Ceremonies Tim Broder Sr., a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Navy SeaBees, opened the program by reading the names of the 17 fallen troops: Paul Edward Albano, William Michael Bagshaw, John Irwin Cameron, Norman Wilbur Clearwater, Eugene Jerome Curless, Jr., John Francis Dedek, William John Dolan, Ronald Francis Hock, Arnold Melvin Hull, Paul Lewis, James Ronald Oakley, Tunis E. Rappleyea, Jr., Michael Joseph Rowcroft, Robert Bruce Schampier, Mark Vedder Schmidt, Harry Joseph Sickler and John Donald Wyszomirski.
Several color guards from around the county marched down Route 81, turned onto Route 32 and into the parking lot, led by the Patriot Riders of Albany motorcycle escort. Boy Scout Troop 42 marched in holding the large ceremonial U.S. flag, with 18 Scouts needed to carry the unfolded flag. They then helped to affix the ceremonial flag to the new flagpole as a member of the American Legion hoisted it high above Greenville.
Scout Cameron Schelling recited the Pledge of Allegiance as the crowd joined in.
The Rev. Jerry Adinolfi, Jr., a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force, delivered the invocation and urged everyone to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom.
“May we never forget them and the ultimate sacrifice they gave for us for the liberty we now enjoy,” Adinolfi said before blessing the monument and flagpole.
Broder recalled a story of a young man fighting in the war who witnessed the death of an injured Marine on a helicopter following a battle.
“The young 19-year-old asked the crew chief… as he gazed upon the Marine, he asked whoever was listening — ‘Do you think 10, 20 or even 30 years from now, anyone will ever remember him or care about him?” Broder said. “We are here today to answer that question over 50 years later with a resounding ‘yes.’ We as Vietnam veterans will never forget, we will always remember, and we built this monument so no one else ever forgets either. Although there are only 17 names on our mini wall, these 17 names are representative of the 58,276 that are engraved on the wall in Washington, D.C.”
“We are making history today, here, with this dedication,” Broder added. “It is also the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the wall in Washington D.C., which was dedicated in 1982.”
Greene County Legislator Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, chairman of the Greene County Legislature, helped the Northeast USA Vietnam Veterans Reunion Memorial Fund, which organized the monument’s construction and installation, acquire funding through the county to help pay for part of the project, Broder said.
“This memorial stands as a representation of not only Vietnam veterans from Greene County, but those from across the entire Northeast,” Linger said. “It is in remembrance of the 17 fallen heroes from Greene County, who paid the ultimate price and it stands for the 58,276 U.S. soldiers who were lost in Vietnam.”
“This memorial ensures that for generations to come, there is a reminder that freedom is never free,” Linger added. “We will remember, we will reflect, and we will strive to be better humans than we were yesterday. Freedom comes at a cost, the price of which cannot be denied.”
Legislator Greg Davis, R-Greenville, saluted local veterans for their dedication and their sacrifices.
“It’s an honor to live in a town and county that supports and cares about our veterans so much,” Davis said. “To those of you who served, welcome home. To those of you who didn’t make it home, rest in peace.”
Greene County Treasurer Peter Markou, who is a Vietnam veteran, said for many who fought in the war, the experience remains fresh in their memory despite the decades that have gone by.
“This is a bittersweet moment,” Markou said. “We gather today to dedicate this place to those who have fallen. It is 50 years since the era of the Vietnam War and for many of us, the memory of that experience has not faded.”
There are many war memorials across the country, but Greene County’s memorial is unique, he said.
“This memorial is different. This memorial is personal,” he said. “It is about us. It is about those young men who made Greene County’s sacrifice to an unpopular war. It is about these 17 lives that never got to reach their full potential. It is about not being forgotten in the mist of time.”
Heather Bagshaw memorialized her uncle William Michael Bagshaw, one of the 17 fallen troops being honored.
“I never got the opportunity to meet a wonderful person,” Bagshaw said of her uncle, and read a poem written by her father, James, about his brother.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, spoke of the sacrifice of those who died in the war, dubbing them “true American heroes.”
“As we reflect upon the service and sacrifices of those who have given their lives so that we may be free, I hope in my heart there never comes a day when the prosperity, liberties and peace we enjoy in this great nation are taken for granted,” Tague said. “Freedom is not, and never will be, free.”
A rose and U.S. flag was presented to a family member representing each of the 17 fallen troops.
The Rifle Squad from Greenville American Legion Post 291 fired three shots into the air in honor of those who died, and then singer Laura Marriott performed “God Bless America” and Vietnam veteran Sgt. James Scarey, chaplain of the Northeast USA Vietnam Veterans Reunion Association, delivered the benediction.
Judge Bernard Malone, president of the Northeast USA Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, called the bond between veterans “like no other.”
“No one who goes to war comes back the same person who went,” Malone said. “Our 17 brothers didn’t volunteer to die, but they did and we thank them.”
Malone presented Broder with a plaque honoring his work, spanning several years, to make the memorial a reality.
The memorial and flagpole came at a hefty price — $102,723. As of the day of the memorial, the group had raised about $60,000, and still needs to come up with another $50,000. The purchase and installation was made possible through a loan from a donor, but the group wants to pay off that loan as soon as they can, Malone said.
Anyone looking to donate to the memorial can send a check made out to Northeast USA Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to P.O. Box 326, Freehold, NY 12431.
Here are more photos from Saturday’s event: