Peter P. Tycz II, a 32-year-old Green Beret from the City of Tonawanda, was the first from Buffalo Niagara to die in the war on terror. The day was June 12, 2002, in Afghanistan. ¶ Eric J. Orlowski, a 26-year-old Marine lance corporal from Depew, was next, on March 22, 2003, in Iraq. ¶ One day later, again in Iraq, 21-year-old Tamario D. Burkett, another lance corporal who called Buffalo home, became the third area man in uniform to be killed. ¶ In total, 65 area soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and others from the region have been killed in combat or in military-related capacities since terrorists turned airplanes into weapons and attacked America on Sept. 1, 2001. ¶ Now these local war heroes will have a memorial of their own. ¶ Three sculptures, hewn from red granite, are expected to grace the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park at Canalside by next Memorial Day, organizers of the Iraq-Afghanistan Memorial announced as preparations are made to commemorate Monday the sacrifices of all who have served in the military.
A 10-foot-tall offset-angled “I” will bear the names of those lost in the Iraq War. An 8-foot-tall pyramid-shaped “A,” 14 feet wide at the base, will have etched in it the names of those killed in Afghanistan.
A third slab of granite, resting on the ground between the two vertical stones, will bear the names of 11 individuals who died in noncombat service and other circumstances.
Relatives of those who will be honored appreciate the tribute, but they continue to mourn their lost loved ones.
Consider the parents of Peter Tycz, who was married and a parent to five daughters.
“Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday, and sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago,” Terry Harnden said of her son’s sacrifice. “God has given me my tears, and he has also given me my joyful memories of Peter. He was a wonderful son.”
Peter P. Tycz says he continues to mourn his son.
“They say it gets easy, but it never gets easy. You learn to deal with it better,” the 65-year-old father said. “I’m sure Pete would love to see his five daughters growing up and being successful. I taught him how to hunt and fish and was looking forward to having him with me in my senior years.”
Amid the sadness, there is gratitude.
“This won’t be about my son. It is and always has been about the American legacy, those fighting for our rights and liberties. They are the backbone of America,” said Susan Price, the mother of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron M. Kenefick, 30, of Williamsville, who was killed Sept. 8, 2009, in Afghanistan.
“Any chance to honor them and keep their memories alive is a marvelous idea,” said Lori Silveri, the mother of Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Jonathon M. Cote, who after leaving the service returned to Iraq to work in security, protecting U.S. military convoys. He was kidnapped, tortured and slain along with four co-workers. His killers have not been caught.
Approximately $30,000 still needs to be raised to meet the $100,000 goal to build the memorial on Buffalo’s waterfront, but Iraq War veteran Dan Frontera of the Iraq-Afghanistan Memorial Committee says he is confident the money will be donated in time to complete construction by Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, when the nation formally honors those killed defending the country.
“All the names etched into the granite will be facing south toward the Navy ships at the park to make sure sunlight always shines on the names of these young heroes,” Frontera said.
While there are 65 names set for the memorial from this region, the total number of Americans killed in the war on terror is now 6,776.
Local veterans who returned home from the different fronts in the global fight say it is impossible to predict when this war of more than a dozen years will conclude.
No end in sight
Terry McGuire, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, believes the war on terror began long before the attacks of 9/11, perhaps as early as the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
“When 9/11 occurred, it was the final blow which fully engaged the United States in a war they had already been fighting. The jihadists had finally gotten our attention,” McGuire said. “The way I look at it now, we may have created some regime changes for greater stability. However, and unfortunately, the global war on terrorism will continue for the foreseeable future.”
That belief, he says, is historically supported by the parallel of America’s lengthy involvement in Vietnam.
“We had an engagement in Vietnam from the late 1950s through the early 1970s. I think the only thing that surprises me in the war on terror is how al-Qaida has been able to regenerate its leadership as quickly as it does. Obviously, our current operations have been able to reduce their capabilities, but not totally eliminate it,” McGuire said.
Christopher M. Kreiger, an Army National Guardsman veteran wounded in Iraq in 2003, says no one expected the war to continue this long.
“But when you declare war on terrorism, the war will go as long as terrorism continues to exist, and obviously terrorism is always going to be a threat to us as well as to many other countries,” Kreiger said. “I’m in favor of the war as long as the reason we’re in it is to continue preserving our safety.”
Mark P. O’Brien, a former Marine who lost his right leg and right arm when he was struck by a rocket propelled grenade nine years ago this past Friday in Iraq, said he never imagined the war would last as long as it has.
“I figured it would be a couple years at most,” he said, adding that though removal of combat troops from Afghanistan is set for the end of 2014, he does not think that will happen.
“We’re probably going to be in Afghanistan for a while. They want us to hunt the enemy. They want us to police the enemy. You can’t go back and forth. You have to have a plan and stick with it,” he said. “I think people are sick of sending our men and women over there. The commanders are switching roles and having us stand off a bit, but that allows the Taliban to regenerate. They should let us do the job and get it over with once and for all.”
One thing O’Brien says he is certain of is that there will always be “brave men and women” prepared to serve the military and defend the country.
That assessment can easily be applied to Heather L. Cummings and her family, for whom Veterans Day is tailor-made as Western New York pays tribute throughout the long holiday weekend to those who have served in the Armed Forces.
Mother first, a warrior second
Cummings of Alden is an Iraq War veteran, and she has three children who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. She counts her blessings that all returned safely.
The 52-year-old Cummings says she experienced worry each time one of her children was deployed to a war zone. The first was sent to Iraq in February 2008 and the last returned home from a deployment to Afghanistan just this past February.
“I became increasingly more concerned because you know your odds are getting greater that something is going to happen,” said Cummings, an Alexander Central School District elementary teacher and member of the 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. “I frequently prayed and had co-workers praying for the safe return of my children.”
After Cummings’ daughter, Kelli Sue Sweeney, also of the 107th, returned home in August 2008 from patrolling Baghdad, Cummings said she was deployed to an air base 40 miles north of Baghdad to work on a team that assessed damage each time the base was shelled.
“I was part of a post-attack recognizance team. Every time we got mortared, we would go out to look for casualties and if there were any live shells,” said Cummings, who returned home in February 2010.
Her son Colin C. Sweeney, now a state trooper, served as a Marine in Afghanistan from August 2010 to March 2011 near the Pakistan border, where insurgents frequently targeted him and other Marines assigned to provide security for Afghan government officials.
“We came under multiple attacks of small arms fire, rocket propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices,” Colin Sweeney said. “It was exciting and it was dangerous. You have to do your job. You can’t live in fear.”
Air base attack
His brother Kevin S. Sweeney, also a Marine, returned home Feb. 13 from Afghanistan, where he served at Camp Bastion performing aircraft maintenance. That type of service might sound like a safe occupation in a war zone, but the enemy brought the war to Sweeney and his colleagues a year ago this past September.
Fifteen Taliban fighters dressed in U.S. Army uniforms managed to slip inside the camp and began blowing up jets and shooting at the Marines.
“Kevin was on the flight line working when the attack started,” his mother said. “He got his gun and started fighting the Taliban.”
When the smoke cleared, two Marines were dead and more than $200 million in aircraft were destroyed or badly damaged. Fourteen Taliban were killed and one was captured. A year later, two Marine generals were forced into retirement for their failure to secure the base.
The close call still causes Cummings to sigh in relief that her son survived the attack. And while she is proud of hers and her children’s service, she is also grateful her youngest son, Corey, 22, chose not to enter the military.
“I was very fortunate, three kids go over and they all came back OK. I don’t think I could have handled another child going in that direction,” Cummings said.
But for the parents and other loved ones of those who were not as fortunate, the Iraq-Afghanistan Memorial coming to the Buffalo waterfront is providing some solace.
“This memorial will be an asset to Buffalo. It shows the patriotism of Western New York, and I wouldn’t expect anything less. Buffalo people are known for genuine hearts and minds,” said Susan Price, the mother of Marine Aaron Kenefick, a casualty.
She looks forward to coming up from her home in Florida to be present when the memorial is unveiled.
Celebrating patriotism, not war
Patrick Welch, a wounded Vietnam veteran and advocate of local veterans, says the memorial will stand as a reminder of the cost of freedom.
“We build monuments not to glorify war but to remember the sacrifices made by all, including their families,” Welch said.
Larry World, a Buffalo firefighter whose brother Buffalo Marine Sgt. Frank J. World, 25, was killed April 1, 2010, in Afghanistan, says that while he wishes his brother were still alive, the memorial is something he looks forward to seeing.
“Down there on the waterfront at the Naval and Military Park, that is a perfect spot to honor the sacrifices that were made,” he said.
And Dan Roustum, the brother of 22-year-old Army National Guard Spc. David L. Roustum, a West Seneca resident killed Nov. 21, 2004, in Iraq, will also be there next Memorial Day.
“We’re very honored,” Roustum said. “All those kids who gave their lives are now part of history just like our heroes from all the previous generations.”
For those who want to contribute, donations can be made online at the Western New York Iraq-Afghanistan Memorial Committee’s website, www.wnyiam.org.