COLONIE – Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, Town of Colonie officials, service members, veterans and residents gathered at the Colonie Veterans Memorial at The Crossings on Albany Shaker Road in Loudonville on Wednesday, May 25 to pay tribute Vietnam-era veterans and those who died in service to their country.
“When our generation came home from Vietnam, we weren’t welcomed home like we are today,” said Tom Regan, founder of Operation: Please Remember Me, a community project that memorializes fallen veterans each year with a motorcade and the hundreds of American flags that are now hanging from telephone poles on Loudon Road—each representing ten fallen soldiers. Those who were lucky enough to return from Vietnam, said Regan, faced ridicule and scorn. “It wasn’t a very pretty time in our country.”
Regan began Please Remember Me as a way to honor friends that he lost in action half a decade ago—friends that he still misses. “They were great friends of mine,” he said. “I lost four right out of high school. Young men who volunteered to go to war for their country. It’s the price of freedom, you know. People need to remember that.”
“They acknowledged us Vietnam combat veterans,” said Gene Loparco, a close friend of Regan and charter member of Please Remember Me, as well as a host of other veteran organizations. Loparco was recently recognized by the office of the Albany County Executive Dan McCoy for the work he does to benefit local veterans. “They presented us with pins,” he said. “Supervisor [Paula] Mahan gave a nice speech and Assemblyman [Phil] Steck showed up and said some words. There was a firing squad from the Tri-County Council of Vietnam Era Veterans and a POW/MIA table that Jerry Perry, from American Legion Post 1520, had the honor of explaining what all of the items represented.”
The invocation and benediction were given by Reverend Charlene Robbins. “She’s a Gold Star mother,” said Loparco, referring to a designation given to the families of those who have been lost in combat. Wreaths were presented at the Colonie Veterans Memorial by the Latham-Colonie Knights of Columbus, the town’s Colonie Veterans Memorial Committee, American Legion Posts 8692 and 1520 and the US Marines. Patriotic songs were sung by the Colonie Village Singers, the Fort Crailo Yankee Doodle Band played taps and the names of new memorial bricks were read.
“As it turned out,” said John LaFalce, a US Navy Vietnam vet, “Vietnam was THE defining event for what is still the largest generation of Americans. It divided our country in as many ways as the Civil War did 100 years earlier. The division will be felt for as long as the division exists. This commemoration tonight is to recognize and honor those who served in that conflict.”
The Town of Colonie Veterans Memorial was unveiled in 2009 and honors all the servicemen and women from the town, alive or dead—the names of Colonie veterans are inscribed on stone pavers placed in front of the memorial. Additionally, the town has a Veterans Memorial Committee and has undertaken to build a historical database of town veterans that is searchable by name, conflict or branch of service.
“It was an honor to participate in the Town of Colonie wreath-laying ceremony and to recognize the contribution of our veterans,” said New York State Assemblyman Phillip Steck (D-110). “We work together with veterans on many issues such as supporting state pensions for veterans and attempting to get state funding to veterans’ organizations. This is also a special anniversary for Vietnam veterans. Because Vietnam was a controversial war, those who served there deserve special commendation for their perseverance.”
Anyone who would like to add the name of a local veteran is encouraged to contact the Colonie Veterans Project. More info can be found at: www.colonie.org/vetproject/
– Ali Hibbs