CATSKILL — A somber morning was observed along the Hudson as Greene County remembered those who lost their lives in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War took place from November 1954 to April 1975. It is the second longest combat that the U.S. has participated in and 58,220 American lives were lost.
An additional 160,000 veterans have taken their own lives, said Tom Andreassen, commander of the Honeyford Memorial Post 110.
Greene County held opening ceremonies for the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall on Thursday morning at the Historic Catskill Point. The exhibit is scaled down to three-fifths of the size of the one in Washington.
John Lutes, 73, of Cairo, grew up with one of the Greene County soldiers who was killed in action.
“He never got to grow up,” Lutes said of his friend Paul Lewis, who died at age 19. “He never got to own a car.”
Lutes, who served as a Petty Officer 3rd Class in the Navy, recalls not knowing what he was getting into.
“I didn’t know what Vietnam was,” he said.
When he heard his friends were getting shipped out to Vietnam, he asked, “What ship is that?”
“They said, it’s not a ship, you idiot, it’s a country.” Lutes said. “I asked them why they were going there. They said, there was a war going on.”
In addition to Lewis, Cpl. Paul E. Albano, 22, of Hannacroix; Pfc. William M. Bagshaw, 18, of Catskill; Airman 1st Class John I. Cameron, 22, of New Baltimore; Sgt. Norman W. Clearwater, 31, of Catskill; 1st Lt. Eugene J. Curless; Cpl. John F. Dedek, 22; Pfc. William J. Dolan, 19; Cpl. Ronald F. Hook, 21, of New Baltimore; Pfc. Arnold M. Hull, 20, of Oak Hill; Pfc. James R. Oakley, 21; Sgt. Tunis E. Rappleyea Jr., 21, of Westkill; Michael J. Rowcroft, a non-commissioned medical officer, 41; Cpl. Robert B. Schampier, 19; Wo1 Mark V. Schmidt, 26, of Leeds; Harry J. Sickler, a helicopter repairer, 20, of Lanesville; and Staff Sgt. John D. Wyszomirski, 28, of Catskill were honored with wreaths beside their names on the wall.
The wreath presentation was followed by a rifle salute by the Greenville American Legion Post 291 and taps by Brent Wheat and Paul Isley.
Remembering veterans is critical, Greene County Treasurer Peter Markou, the keynote speaker, said.
Markou served in the Navy as a Petty Officer 3rd Class.
“This is a war monument like no other,” Markou said. “This is a statement of lives cut short, of futures blotted out by death. Every name on this wall deserved a life. Every name deserved honor.”
The commemoration for Vietnam veterans has been a long time coming, Markou said.
“Every year there are fewer and fewer of us left to remember,” he said. “We are bound by their blood to remember. As long as one of us stands we will not be forgotten. We will remember.”
The memorial serves as a prime place to remember all veterans, Markou said.
“This is the time, this is the day, this is the place to remember,” he said.
Markou reminded the audience to think not just of those who were killed in action but also those who came home.
“That 58,220 doesn’t count those with physical and psychological issues that plagued them for the next 50 years,” Markou said. “We have to remember there is no unwounded in war. There are the mothers and fathers who lose a child. There are the siblings who lose a brother or sister. There are the husbands and wives. And then there is a child.”
Several lawmakers from local, county, state and national government attended the ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, found the ceremony humbling.
“It’s always important to remember those who put their lives on the line and to honor them, particularly with the Vietnam War but with all wars,” he said. “They are heroes.”
State Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46, echoed those remarks.
“It’s so important to honor and respect all our veterans, not just from Vietnam,” Amedore said. “There are men and women who are free citizens that appreciate all that our military do.”
Amedore said he believes the wall will be a place of healing, remembrance, therapy and respect.
“Kudos to everyone that volunteered, helped or gave resources or their time and talent to make that site so beautiful for that wall,” he said. “It is a very fitting place. I think that is the best site selection Greene County could offer.”
Music was provided by Laura Marriott singing “God Bless America” and the national anthem, and the Pipes & Drums of Greene County. The Rev.Richard Turpin of the Second Baptist Church of Catskill delivered the invocation and Rabbi Zoe B. Zak of Temple Israel in Catskill gave the benediction.
The memorial wall is on display until Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Golf carts are available to transport visitors to and from the parking lot at Dutchmen’s Landing, Tourism Marketing Manager Heather Bagshaw said. Veterans can park at Mike’s Catskill Point by showing their veteran’s card, she said.