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Four veterans saluted with granting of HS diploma

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

The Operation Recognition honorees, left to right — veteran Eugene Datri; Thomas Riordan Jr., representing his late father, Thomas J. Riordan; Sally Foronda, on behalf of her late father, Louis Alfred Palmer Sr.; and Barbara Tanner, representing her late husband, Donald N. Tanner. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — They’ve been on the battlefield, they’ve been leaders in their community, and now, they have something they sacrificed to do those things — a high school diploma.

Four local veterans were granted their diplomas by the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk school district in a touching tribute Saturday, three of them posthumously.

The honor, known as Operation Recognition, is available under Section 305 of New York State Education Law, for veterans who served honorably but did not complete their high school careers.

“We come here today to honor four very special veterans — Eugene Datri, Louis A. Palmer, Thomas J. Riordan and Donald N. Tanner,” said VFW Post 9594 Auxiliary member Lori Nunziato, who helped organize the program. “Each of these men have given of themselves so selflessly in defending and serving our country.”

Operation Recognition was organized in the RCS district and the four diplomas were granted in a ceremony at RCS High School on Saturday.

“This event was done first in Tannersville, New York, for Lori Nunziato’s father along with other veterans,” said Joseph Eissing, president of the VFW Post 9594 Auxiliary. “She brought it to our auxiliary and we thought it was a great idea, so we made Lori Nunziato chairperson along with Lisa Schmitt, Robin Riordan and myself. And it turned into what it was today, great.”

The program was opened with the singing of the national anthem by the RCS Harmonics Select Chorus and the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Datri and the RCS National Honor Society.

Diplomas were awarded to Eugene R. Datri, corporal in the United States Army, Class of 1953; Louis Alfred Palmer Sr., private first class, United States Marine Corps, Class of 1941 (deceased); Thomas J. Riordan, private first class, United States Army, Class of 1937 (deceased); and Donald N. Tanner, sergeant, United States Army, Class of 1953 (deceased).

Veteran Eugene Datri with RCS District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey after Datri’s high school diploma was granted under Operation Recognition. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

The diplomas were granted posthumously by RCS District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey to Palmer, Riordan and Tanner, and were accepted by their family members.

Riordan’s son, Thomas J. Riordan, Jr., who is also a veteran, said his father quit school when his own father died, leaving a widow, son and four daughters. Riordan told a harrowing story of his father’s experiences serving with the 36th Armored Infantry Division in World War II.

“The fighting became fiercer as the Americans entered the German Fatherland,” Riordan said. “Having been on the front line during some of the heaviest firefights, some of Dad’s luck ran out in late March 1945.”

A German soldier threw a hand grenade, which bounced off Riordan’s helmet and exploded a short distance away.

“Dad was seriously wounded with shrapnel penetrating both arms, shoulders and back. He was knocked unconscious by the concussion,” Riordan Jr. said. “He was awarded the Purple Heart for the wounds he received.”

Barbara Tanner accepted the diploma on behalf of her late husband, Donald Tanner.

“Don was a good husband, a good father,” she said. “When he came out of the service he became police chief, a Greene County sheriff and an ace mechanic, so I guess he got a certificate in life.”

The district superintendent congratulates Barbara Tanner, who accepted her late husband’s high school diploma on his behalf. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Sally Foronda, daughter of Louis Alfred Palmer Sr., and Lisa Foronda-Schmitt, Palmer’s granddaughter, accepted a diploma in his name.

“My father sacrificed a lot,” Sally Foronda told the audience. “He left school in 7th grade. Some of you probably have 7th graders and can’t imagine leaving school at such a young age. He left school to go to work to support his family and later on went into the Marines and served in World War II.”

Eugene Datri accepted his diploma and urged the community to do one special thing.

“We are having a lot of trouble in this country now, with everyone shooting one another. We are passing all kinds of laws to prevent this,” Datri said. “To me, the only thing we have to do, and I want everybody to remember this, is to love each other and everything else will fall into place.”

Captain Robin Riordan, retired, and a member of the VFW Auxiliary, said the awarding of high school diplomas is designed to honor veterans for their service to the nation in the name of freedom.

“During times of war, thousands of young men and women across the country left high school and the comforts of home and hearth to serve gallantly in the armed forces,” Riordan said with tears in her eyes. “Their sacrifice ensures our freedoms and shaped the course of history throughout the world. After the war ended, many veterans were not able to finish high school for various reasons but led productive lives and built our community over their lifetime.”

Capt. Robin Riordan, retired, congratulates Barbara Tanner, who accepted a high school diploma on her late husband’s behalf during the Operation Recognition ceremony at RCS High School on Saturday. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Numerous elected officials paid tribute to the contributions and sacrifices made by the four recipients.

“We owe so much to our veterans,” U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-20, said. “They not only protected our rights, our freedoms, our liberties in fighting for this nation and flag, they also promoted those ideals to freedom-loving people around the world. They were the spokespersons, the banner carriers for our country to help people understand the greatness of our democracy.”

Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, spoke of the sacrifices veterans made for the good of the country.

“There are never words to fully express our appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifice that these men have made for our communities,” Tague said. “Their courage, dedication and willingness to put themselves in harm’s way is a true testament of what our country stands for. Thank you for protecting our country, our community members and striving to make sure that our great United States of America remains the land of the free because of the brave.”

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, an active master sergeant with the New York Army National Guard, said those who serve are a select dedicated few.

“Less than 1% of our population serves in the United States military. Less than 1%,” McCoy said. “There are roughly 335 million Americans in this country and less than 1% defend their freedoms, our right to believe in whatever we want to believe in, our right to join any party we want, our right to agree to disagree.”

Albany County Legislator Zachary Collins, R-Coeymans, said he graduated from the RCS district in 2007 and said the four men being honored Saturday did what few do at a young age — and for that sense of duty and devotion, they are heroes.

“You make me proud to be an American, and you make me proud to be from Coeymans,” Collins said.

RCS District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey with the family of Louis Alfred Palmer Sr. — daughter Sally Foronda, center, and granddaughter Lisa Foronda-Schmitt — as they accepted Palmer’s diploma posthumously. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Coeymans Town Supervisor George McHugh, Army colonel, retired, said the sacrifices made by veterans have ensured that today’s high school students are free to pursue their own dreams.

“They never got to don a cap and gown, they never got their diploma,” McHugh said. “Nobody here has any worries about that. They didn’t get to do it because they were the true heroes, and they still are. So if you are looking for a hero, look no further than Mr. Datri and the rest of these heroes.”

Ravena Mayor Bill Misuraca expressed appreciation that VFW 9594 calls the village home.

“We do appreciate the true sacrifices that were made,” Misuraca said. “On behalf of the village of Ravena, I would like to thank everyone that made this day possible, to put a highlight and a spotlight on the sacrifices that were made.”

Here are more scenes from Saturday’s ceremony:

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