The story of Army hero Charles N. DeGlopper reads like a Hollywood script: A small town boy joins the Army in World War II and gives his life to save his platoon, stepping out into the open to fight the Germans alone and stopping them from taking control of a strategic bridge in the Normandy campaign.
But on June 9, 1944, this was the true story of local hero Pfc. DeGlopper, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division's 325th Glider Regiment, a native of Grand Island and a 1941 graduate of Tonawanda High School. He was killed in action and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award in the U.S. military.
In Grand Island, the DeGlopper Memorial VFW Post 9249 and the American Legion are in the midst of a $750,000 renovation of DeGlopper Memorial Park. The plans call for erecting a statue of DeGlopper.
Also planned are a memorial wall honoring Grand Islanders killed in action, a Gold Star mothers memorial, and benches and memorial pavers. A star inlaid in the ground will serve as a tribute to all five military branches.
Currently, there's a single memorial plaque and flagpole that were put in the park at Baseline Road and Grand Island Boulevard when it was first dedicated to DeGlopper in 1962.
The expansion was made possible when the VFW acquired adjacent land where a former gas station was torn down.
For Ray DeGlopper, the park's namesake was Uncle Charlie. Ray DeGlopper said his uncle, a 6-foot-7 man who had to duck to go through the doorways, seemed larger than life even before he jumped out of airplanes in North Africa and Sicily to fight the Nazis.
"I saw him once when I was a little kid. I was about 3- or 4-years-old," said DeGlopper of his last memory of his uncle. "I think he had snuck home for a visit."
DeGlopper said the bridge in La Fiere, France, was strategic – the only bridge over the Merderet River that had not been blown up. The Germans wanted to cross over to the bridge get to the beaches where troops were landing in Normandy. Charles DeGlopper and his battalion's mission was to secure the bridge.
"But somehow they got cut off," said Ray DeGlopper. "Evidently he said he would hold (the Germans) off while his (platoon of about 40 to 50 men) got back to the rear."
Here's what the Congressional Medal of Honor citation said about DeGlopper:
"Outflanked by superior forces, DeGlopper volunteered to support his comrades by firing from his automatic rifle while they attempted to withdraw through a hedgerow. He walked from the ditch into the full view of the Germans and sprayed hostile assault fire. He was wounded, but he continued to fire. Kneeling in the roadway he fired burst upon burst until he was killed outright. He was successful in drawing the enemy actions away from his fellow soldiers who were able to move to a more advantageous position and establish the first bridgehead over the Merderet. Returning to the area where DeGlopper had made his stand, his comrades found the ground strewn with dead Germans, many with machine guns and automatic weapons."
Ray DeGlopper said he has traveled to La Fiere, where his uncle was killed at age 22.
"They all say, 'If it wasn't for Charlie we wouldn't be here today,' " said DeGlopper.
DeGlopper said his family didn't talk much about his Uncle Charlie, perhaps due to the painful memories and many losses the family had faced.
"My grandfather (Charles L. DeGlopper) had this awful sad look on his face," said DeGlopper, remembering those days after his Uncle Charlie was killed in action. He said another uncle, Robert, died at age 26 of tuberculosis, and his grandmother, Mary, died before Ray was born.
An annual ceremony is held in Charles DeGlopper's name at the site of the battle in La Fiere. There's also a transport ship, since decommissioned, a road at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and an Air Assault School at Fort Bragg named in his honor.
In Grand Island, the park and plaque in it were dedicated in 1962. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9249 was named for DeGlopper in 1965. The U.S. Army Reserve Training Center on Colvin Boulevard in the Town of Tonawanda was also named for DeGlopper.
His story is well-known to his many remaining relatives and compatriots, but the expansion of the small memorial park into a showpiece is designed to acknowledge and honor DeGlopper and other servicemen and servicewomen from Grand Island who were killed in action.
Information about donations and purchasing a memorial paver stone is available at degloppermemorial.org/donations. Donations may also be mailed to the Charles N. DeGlopper Memorial VFW Post 9249, 2121 Grand Island Boulevard, Grand Island, NY, 14072.