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REPLACING LONG-MISSING MEMORIAL

The mystery of Buffalo's missing Vietnam War memorial has never been solved.

In 1981, the 300-pound granite marker was stolen from its downtown site in front of the Dulski Federal Office Building at Delaware Avenue and West Huron Street.

Nobody knows what happened to the memorial, which had been a source of controversy.

Now, more than two decades after its disappearance, some local Vietnam War veterans have resolved the issue for themselves and will install a new one at the same site.

"This isn't about a monument; it's about doing the right thing to honor men who made the supreme sacrifice for their country," said Mark J. O'Connor, a Vietnam veteran and local attorney, who spearheaded a movement to install the memorial back in 1979.

The U.S. General Services Administration, which oversees the building, ordered the memorial removed in 1981 because of a lack of liability insurance. But a few days before it was to be legally removed, the marker was gone and local authorities could not find it.

There was some speculation at the time, O'Connor said, that veterans might have taken the marker to prevent the GSA from getting it. No one was ever charged, and the marker has never been found.

The missing memorial caused a media stir but was soon forgotten. Then, a few months ago, O'Connor happened to be walking by the Dulski Building. He looked where the marker used to be; grass had grown over the spot.

"It just just hit me that the monument had never been replaced," said O'Connor, who served with the Army's 101st Airborne Division. "After all these years, I figured it was about time."

O'Connor and other local veterans recently contacted the GSA to see if the marker could be replaced. Despite some initial bureaucratic wrangling, it looks as if it is going to happen.

The memorial "was unique to Buffalo," the first Vietnam War memorial in the city and one of the first in the country, O'Connor said. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was not dedicated until November 1982.

The local veterans were hoping for a ceremony on Veterans Day, but it was delayed, a GSA spokesman told The Buffalo News, adding that it will happen "soon," after a few more details are settled.

"We're glad to be able to return the replica of the marker," Eileen Long-Chelales, regional administrator for the GSA said in a statement.

Does it really matter after all these years?

"It sure does," said Ralph Sirianni, a Vietnam War veteran and local artist who will design the new marker.

"This is something that goes way back, but we'll never forget the Vietnam veterans. To dedicate a monument and then have it taken away just wasn't right. We're going to make it right."

Sirianni said the new memorial will feature a soldier's helmet, rifle and boots, portrayed in a granite cylinder.

"This country is at war and the time is right to remind people about the sacrifices of another war," Sirianni said. More than that, he believes that the marker stands in contrast to the attitude for those returning from Iraq, compared with those who returned from Vietnam.

"I see this marker as a way to help make sure as a nation we never again allow soldiers to live with guilt for fighting for their country," Sirianni said. "We must never again make soldiers sneak back home and be looked down upon for serving."

O'Connor believes that, in a sense, the new memorial is a way to heal some of the wounds left by the memories of a war that won't go away. "I remember the day we dedicated the monument," he said, recalling in 1979 how a squadron of fighter jets flew over downtown streets and veterans marched down Delaware Avenue, sang the national anthem and shed some tears.

"It was a long time ago; we're all a lot older now but you don't forget a day like that," O'Connor said. "Now that we're going to get a new monument, I feel like I did on that day all over again."

Such sentiments are bittersweet, because the monument serves not just as a reminder of the war, O'Connor said, but of "the people who died fighting it."

e-mail: aviolanti@buffnews.com

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