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Debating how to best honor Falls' war dead

Louis "Red" D'Amico remembers Lorne E. Henry Jr. riding his bike up and down Lindbergh Avenue.

That was before Henry, 21, served with the 10th Mountain Division and went to Iraq. It was before Henry was eulogized in March as a good athlete, a quiet leader and a brave corporal.

Now city leaders are considering a request to rename a portion of Lindbergh Avenue after the fallen soldier.

"It's a good move. It's about time the city made a good move," said D'Amico, a World War II veteran and a Lindbergh resident who lives near Henry's family on a block that could be renamed for the soldier. "It keeps him in the spotlight more."

Mayor Vince Anello last week asked the City Council to begin the process to rename the section of Lindbergh between 56th Street and Builders Way after Henry, "in honor of his great sacrifice that he made to this country."

But there's a hitch. Council Chairman Robert Anderson Jr., an Air Force veteran, asked that the item be pulled from the meeting agenda last Monday night, and instead the city administrator come up with a way to honor all veterans.

The action has sparked debate over how to honor those who have given their lives in the service of their country.

Kathryn Toni, a past junior president of LaSalle Post 1142, American Legion, said that she did not know of any existing traditions for honoring soldiers but that there have been fallen heroes from Niagara from past wars who have not yet been honored with a street in their name.

"I feel for the family's loss," Toni said. "I would assume it would stir a lot of feelings across the board."

Anderson, 65, who served for 22 years in the Air Force, said the standard protocol to honor soldiers in American wars is to wait three to five years after a war ends, tally the dead, wounded and those who served, and put up a monument listing all of their names -- with special emphasis on those who made the greatest sacrifice.

"Traditionally in this country, the government normally waits until a conflict is over," Anderson said.

"I'm pretty sure before this conflict is over, that more than two individuals [from Niagara Falls] will have given their lives for this country."

The goal, he said, should be to honor "all of them."

Anello, who was in the Army Reserve, said he was contacted by Henry's mother and stepfather about the street. He said the city should not delay the request.

"Wait for what?" Anello asked. "This was one individual who was a resident who grew up in Niagara Falls who died in extraordinary circumstances, not just because it was a war, but the actions that he took."

Henry had volunteered to serve as a combat engineer, a dangerous job in which he cleared roads of explosives to make the way safe for his fellow soldiers. The Army has reported he was killed in a roadside bombing of the vehicle in which he was riding.

The mayor said he also is making plans to honor Army Staff Sgt. Aram J. Bass, a football and basketball player at Niagara Catholic High School who died in Iraq during a battle in November 2005.

Niagara Falls has no procedures in place to handle requests to rename a street. Anello said the city has changed the names of streets or added honorary signs for other residents.

Politics also enters into the equation, as Anderson supports fellow Democratic Councilman Lewis "Babe" Rotella in a four-way race for mayor that includes Anello, former Democratic Councilman Paul A. Dyster and former Republic Councilwoman Candra Thomason.

"I think the mayor will do anything during his last five months to try to get votes," Anderson said.

Memorializing soldiers is an issue communities in Buffalo Niagara have handled in different ways.

The Cheektowaga Town Board has renamed two streets since 2005 for soldiers killed in Iraq. Cari Lane commemorates Sgt. Cari Anne Gasiewicz, who was killed Dec. 4, 2004. A street around the corner from where Sgt. 1st Class Robert V. Derenda grew up bears his name. Derenda was killed in Iraq on Aug. 5, 2005.

Cheektowaga Town Attorney Kevin G. Schenk said the town has the authority to rename streets but must notify a variety of agencies, including the county, public works departments, the post office and the assessor.

The name changes in Cheektowaga passed without controversy, Schenk said.

"I think the two streets we renamed for fallen soldiers, they were side streets that didn't have any houses," Schenk said. "Nobody had to change their address."

The section of Lindbergh Avenue in Niagara Falls where Henry's family lives is a quiet neighborhood now that 61st Street School has closed. Well-maintained houses line the street. D'Amico one day last week was trimming the bushes at the home his family built more than 40 years ago.

D'Amico thinks the neighbors wouldn't mind honoring Henry, even if it means changing addresses.

"I think it's a good starter," D'Amico said. "Him living in the area, I thought they would have done more."

Henry's mother, Wendy Kovacs, declined an interview for this article. Anello said he has contacted Kovacs to tell her the request has been delayed.

Ed Maynard, a Niagara Falls High School teacher and coach who convinced Henry to join the swim team, said the name change would be a wonderful gesture to honor the local graduate.

"I just think it kind of keeps his memory alive," Maynard said. "I think the city definitely wants to go forward with it. I think it's just a matter of timing."

Maynard, who gave the eulogy at Henry's funeral, described Henry as a good athlete with a great smile. He recalled that Henry gave Maynard's son, who has autism, high-fives whenever he saw him. Maynard wants other students to keep that spirit alive.

"Here's a kid that was sitting in room 331 just a couple of years ago," Maynard said, "taking the Earth Science test just like any other kid."


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