Vietnam veterans work to memorialize the fallen

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

A bronze Battle Cross will honor county residents who died in the Vietnam War. Contributed photo

GREENVILLE — A small cadre of veterans is working to build a monument to memorialize Greene County residents who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War.

The group is looking to install a Battlefield Cross, a memorial that symbolizes the honor, service and sacrifice of troops killed in battle. It is composed of a bronze replica of items a service member has in the field of battle — boots, a rifle, dog tags and a helmet — presented in the shape of a cross.

The monument is planned for Greenville’s Veterans Memorial Park at the intersection of Routes 81 and 32, near the town gazebo. The veterans’ monument would also have the names of the 17 Greene County residents, or individuals with strong ties to the county, who were killed in the Vietnam War.

Members of the Northeast USA Vietnam Veterans Reunion Association formed a new group to make the dream of installing a monument in memory of the fallen a reality. The association held annual reunions for Vietnam veterans for two decades, first in Freehold and later in Greenville. The site of the reunions — reputed to be among the largest of their kind in the country — made Greenville the obvious choice to site the monument, Tim Broder, vice president of the newly formed Northeast USA Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, said.

“When we had our final reunion in 2019 after 20 years, we announced that we were still going to stay involved and erect a monument with the names of those from Greene County who were killed in the Vietnam War,” Broder said. “We had planned on doing it a bit sooner, but then COVID happened.”

The monument will be installed in Greenville’s Veterans Memorial Park at the intersection of Routes 81 and 32. File photo

The first step was to create a 501(c)(3), an official nonprofit organization separate from the original reunion group. That took about eight months of working with an Albany law firm and the IRS, which was completed around November, Broder said.

The monument dedication date has already been set for Sept. 17, but first the group has to raise the funds necessary to purchase the monument, engrave and install it. There are also plans to install a flagpole and purchase several large American flags.

“The logistics are all set up to purchase the materials, but we need to get the fundraising moving,” Broder said.

The group went before the Greenville Town Council a couple of years ago asking for permission to build the monument in the park and town officials gave it their enthusiastic support, but then the process was slowed down by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Broder said.

“It was welcomed with open arms by town officials,” Broder said. “As a Vietnam veteran it is nice, after 50 years, to be received like that.”

Veteran Jim Sill, treasurer of the memorial fund organization, said erecting a monument to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War is a fitting way of honoring their memory.

“I want people to remember the Vietnam veterans because we were a lost bunch of people when we returned from Vietnam,” Sill said. “It was an unpopular war, but I always tell people — I had a job to do. I didn’t have any decision to make. It was our duty to serve, and it was for, hopefully, the peace of America and so people would have the right to demonstrate against us.”

There have been rumors and requests over the years to site the monument elsewhere in the county, such as Catskill or Coxsackie, but organizers held firm to their belief that the longtime home of the reunion was where the monument should be.

Purchasing and erecting the monument will be a pricey proposition — in the range of about $100,000, Broder said, unless in-kind services are provided by businesses, such as purchasing concrete or other services.

“The bronze is about $8,000 just for that,” Broder said. “The granite and stonework and all the work that is involved in terms of cutting and polishing, that could be close to $20,000 or $25,000. The flagpole will be thousands as well.”

Additional expenses for materials and labor will also add up.

In addition to fundraising, organizers are also seeking additional information on those being memorialized on the monument so their memory can be fully honored.

Broder recalled reading out the names of the fallen at every reunion held in Freehold and Greenville.

“At the reunions, when I would read the first name of someone who was killed in the war, you could hear a pin drop,” he said. “Then I would read the rest and people were just in awe.”

The group has just begun fundraising to cover the costs of the monument and flagpole, along with their installation, and is looking to reach out to individuals, businesses and veterans groups, Sill said.

Some donations have begun coming in already, particularly from families who lost a loved one in the war, or those looking to honor someone who served in any war.

“The monument will honor the people that got killed in Vietnam who lived in the Greene County area,” Sill said. “It should be special and hopefully educational so people will never forget and always remember the sacrifice that we all made.”

The 17 Greene County residents who made the ultimate sacrifice and whose names will be engraved on the monument are:

  • U.S. Marine Corporal Paul Edward Albano, of Hannacroix, killed in action March 28, 1967.
  • U.S. Marine Private 1st Class William Michael Bagshaw, of Catskill, killed in action Feb. 26, 1968, 13 days after he arrived in country at 18 years old.
  • U.S. Air Force Airman 1st class John Irwin Cameron, of Coxsackie, killed in action Feb. 2, 1966.
  • U.S. Marine Sergeant Norman Wilbur Clearwater, of Catskill, killed in action Dec. 27, 1967.
  • U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Eugene Jerome Curless Jr., of Medusa, killed in action March 25, 1968.
  • U.S. Marine Corporal John Francis Dedek, of Oak Hill, killed in action Feb. 22, 1969.
  • U.S. Marine Private 1st Class William John Dolan, injured April 16, 1968, and died April 17, 1968. Buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Tannersville.
  • U.S. Marine Corporal Ronald Francis Hock, of New Baltimore, killed in action July 31, 1966.
  • U.S. Army Private 1st Class Arnold Melvin Hull, of Oak Hill, killed in action Dec. 17, 1966.
  • U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Paul Lewis, of Saugerties, killed in action May 24, 1968.
  • U.S. Army Private 1st Class James Ronald Oakley, of Grand Gorge, killed in action Feb. 23, 1968.
  • U.S. Army Sergeant Tunis Rappleyea Jr., of West Kill, killed in action Nov. 22, 1967.
  • U.S. Army Specialist 4th Class Michael Joseph Rowcroft, injured Aug. 27, 1968, died at 41 years old when he succumbed to his wounds; served as director of the Greene County Veterans Service Agency from 1980 until his death.
  • U.S. Marine Corporal Robert Bruce Schampier, of Alcove, killed in action March 6, 1968.
  • U.S. Army Warrant Officer Mark Vedder Schmidt, of Leeds, killed in action Dec. 27, 1967.
  • U.S. Army Specialist 4th Class Harry Joseph Sickler, of Lanesville, killed in action Nov. 1, 1964.
  • U.S. Marine Sergeant John Donald Wyszomirski, of Catskill, killed in action Aug. 12, 1966.

For more information about the Vietnam veterans’ monument project, email nevietvets199@yahoo.com. Donations can be mailed to Northeast USA Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 326, Freehold, NY 12431. Checks should be made out to Northeast USA Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which can be abbreviated to NEUSAVVMF. All donations are tax deductible, Broder said.

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