Share this article

print logo

Honoring the right soldier Thanks to WNY Heroes and Sen. Schumer, mistake in name of Falls man on Vietnam memorial in D.C. will be fixed

The wait is nearly over for a local family that has been trying for about 30 years to have a loved one's name spelled correctly on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

By Memorial Day, the National Park Service will fix Roland Settimi's first name on the memorial wall in Washington, D.C. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will pay to have the name etched correctly.

The announcement was made during a ceremony Wednesday at the Vietnam Memorial at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.

"All of the memories are coming back to me now," Settimi's mother, Antonette, said tearfully as she recalled the kind of young man her son was.

"He was very active. He played the guitar. He was into sports, all of them. He played baseball a lot."

Just before Settimi joined the service, he worked at Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston, she said.

"He was going to be a male nurse. His father was a chiropractor," she said.

Settimi was a 20-year-old Army medic from Niagara Falls whose short military career began after he graduated from Bishop Duffy High School and enlisted in the Army.

On May 12, 1969, Settimi was a senior aidman with Company B, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division in Tay Ninh Province near Quan Loi, Vietnam. After a trailer containing captured enemy ammunition exploded, Settimi began to administer first aid to a soldier who was wounded. As he was treating the soldier, a second explosion in the trailer took Settimi's life, as well as the soldier's.

The explosion happened less than a year after he enlisted. The heroic act earned him a place on the Vietnam memorial in Washington, but when it opened in 1982, his first name was listed as Ronald.

"It wasn't a misspelling. It was a totally different name," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., whom the family recently contacted for help.

Settimi's survivors found out about the error through friends who visited the wall.

Family members sent a couple of letters to Washington -- one to the Pentagon, another to the Park Service about the mistake, but to no avail, said his mother.

"We were probably contacting the wrong people, because we didn't know who could take care of it," said Settimi's younger brother, Bradley, who was 15 when his brother was killed.

"He was my hero. I wanted to play guitar like him. I wanted to play baseball like him," said Bradley, who received one letter from Roland while his brother was away at war. He still has it.

"Before he left, he was teaching me how to play guitar. In the letter he told me to keep practicing the scales. 'If you're going to get any good you have to practice,' " Bradley said his brother wrote in the letter.

The family's efforts to correct the mistake took a turn for the better after Settimi's sister Dana Papaj met Chris Kreiger at a Christmas party last year. Kreiger is the president and co-founder of WNY Heroes, a group that supports Western New York's military veterans.

"We struck up a conversation about her brother, and she told me nobody would listen to her," Kreiger said. "I told her I might be able to help."

"He gave his life. He fought for his country, and the least the country can do is show him respect by giving him the right name," he added.

That conversation eventually led Papaj to Schumer, who contacted the Park Service.

"[Schumer] called me several times a day, updating me. Had I known you would have moved this fast, I would have called you years ago," Papaj told the senator during Wednesday's ceremony.

Schumer presented Settimi's family with an American flag that had been flown over the Capitol in Washington.

"We are very grateful," said Papaj, who added that her brother was awarded two Purple Hearts.

Because scrubbing the incorrect name and recarving the wall could harm the structure, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will pay to etch Settimi's correct name in the closest available spot on the wall at a cost of about $6,000, said Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the fund.

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com