HILLSDALE–The memorial to local wartime veterans, started by Joe LaPorta and his buddy Paul Proper Sr. of the Cadby-Shutts VFW Post 7552, is now becoming a reality.
The project was conceived earlier this year as a way to list on memorial markers the names of all Hillsdale residents who served in the military during the Vietnam, Korea, and World Wars I and II. As Mr. LaPorta puts it, “There’s got to be something for posterity. It’s a veterans’ function to look after veterans.”
The first budget was estimated to cost around $6,000 and was to be four simple markers bearing the names for each conflict. But with input and encouragement from the town’s Hamlet Committee, the design became a bit more ambitious. Matthew White, a committee member and professional designer, drew up a concept for the site next to Town Hall on Route 23 that included bronze plaques, stonework, a bench, a walkway, a garden, a new flagpole and even in-ground lighting. The fund-raising target grew closer to $18,000, just for materials.
Now named Veteran’s Memorial Garden of Hillsdale, the design concept was presented at the March Town Board meeting.
Mr. LaPorta began compiling names of residents who had served, and contributions from townspeople started coming in. By the end of May, the vets had raised around $5,000 from the public. Some local foundation grants were solicited, but to the vets, it looked like a long march yet ahead.
Then on May 23, the VFW set up a card table and information easel for the annual community flea market in the town park. It was also, appropriately, Memorial Day weekend. The vets hoped folks would drop by and add a bit to their pot of small donations. They sure did. One couple strolled over and changed everything.
Joe LaPorta tells the story, now local legend: “This gentleman looked at the pictures and said, ‘It’s beautiful. How much will it cost to complete?’ and Paul Proper told him, ‘Well, we figure another 10-to-$12,000.’ And the man said, ‘You’re covered,’ and Paul said, ‘Sir, ten or twelve thousand, not hundred,’ and the man repeated, ‘I said you’re covered.’ And he turned to his wife and said, ‘Write the veterans out a check for $12,000.’”
Town Supervisor Art Baer recalled how the veterans reacted that day. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “The guys were in tears, literally.”
That generous couple are part-time Hillsdale residents John and Linda Tavlarios. He is president of General Maritime Corporation, an oil shipping corporation, and they are the single largest donor to the memorial project, which has raised almost $24,000. After construction costs, any money left over will go into a special VFW fund to maintain the site and possibly add names later for those serving during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Groundbreaking and pouring of cement foundations took place in early July. Hillsdale stonemason Rick Burntitus and landscaper Tony Perino, along with other local businesses and artisans, are contributing materials and labor.
Mr. LaPorta has so far compiled some 120 names to appear on the four bronze plaques dedicated to those who served during each conflict (30 for WWI, 54 for WWII, 16 for the Korean War and 20 for Vietnam). He is still finalizing the list. “If anyone has a name that they think deserves to be included, a resident of Hillsdale when they enlisted or were drafted, they have got to call us by August 10,” he said. Those with information can contact him at (518) 329-1285.
The formal dedication ceremony will be held this fall on Veteran’s Day. Donations for the continuing upkeep of the memorial garden can be made to VFW Post 7552, P.O. Box 10, Hillsdale, NY 12529.