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Veterans fume over those who urinate on Buffalo's Vietnam Memorial

The Vietnam Memorial's polished granite walls in Memorial Park reflect the sacrifice of the 530 men and one woman from Western New York whose names are etched on it.

But there are problems, two veterans groups say: Men occasionally urinate on the sloping walls – perhaps because they offer a measure of privacy – and tar seeping from the pavement has scarred the ground.

"I've seen the stains on the monument," said Al Brusetti, a Vietnam veteran active with Chapter 77 of Vietnam Veterans of America. "It's disrespectful. I actually wake up at night thinking, 'How could people do this?' "

Brusetti said lighting used to be better at the memorial, but it was replaced years ago by two tall stanchions that light the site from behind. He said a tree now partially blocks the light.

"We would like lights to shine on the front of the monument," Brusetti said.

The Buffalo WNY Veteran's Memorial Restoration Committee has raised $15,000 to replace the tar-damaged tiles with stamped concrete and make other improvements. The committee is working with the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park.

Visitors walk on the tar-patched paving stones at the Vietnam War Memorial at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

"It's just disappointing that people would have such a lack of respect for such a sacred spot," said Ralph Sirianni, a member of the restoration committee who also designed the monument's center stone.

Help could be on the way.

The naval park board has recently received a $25,000 grant from the Buffalo and Erie County Niagara Greenway Fund Standing Commission that could be used to improve lighting around the Vietnam Memorial.

"Lighting is one of the issues we were going to take a look at," said Andy Rabb, the deputy commissioner for parks, and the city's representative on the naval park board. "We will be working with them to use those funds to complete some planning not just for that memorial, but the entire Memorial Park."

The Vietnam Memorial is located about 100 feet from the USS Croaker at the far end of the park.

A naval park docent said people who appear to be homeless and alcoholic often hang out in that vicinity.

"I've seen the homeless or semi-homeless – the pan-handler bums – go down by the Vietnam Wall and drink from whatever they have in their brown paper bags," Jess King said. "I used to have to park down there, and when I'd walk by, they'd have a quart of Old Milwaukee and act like it's a lounge area, which it's not."

The city owns the park, and the naval park has a 10-year lease to maintain it. Volunteers – from tree and sprinkling companies to veterans who volunteer with landscaping – help maintain the grounds. The city's Public Works Department also helps with projects.

Retired Coast Guard Capt. Brian Roche, the naval park's executive director, said finding funds to maintain the monuments is difficult. The group approved a new process last week that will require the establishment of an endowment for future memorials to ensure they are properly maintained.

Roche said he's not convinced better lighting at the Vietnam Memorial will work.

"I did security my whole career with the Coast Guard," Roche said. "Lighting doesn't solve everybody's problem."

He said he's heard docents suggest a fence around Memorial Park, but he said that would be wrong.

"Then it's not a park anymore," Roche said. "That kind of goes against the whole concept of this country. You just hope to educate and hold accountable the people who break the rules, and hope for the best."

The city regularly patrols the Erie Basin Marina and the naval park area. The city also monitors a surveillance camera at Erie Street and Marine Drive, according to city spokesman Michael DeGeorge.

The Vietnam veterans memorial on Buffalo's waterfront. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The docents and the naval park also help monitor the park.

"Veterans look at it like it should be protected like a cemetery, but it's really a city park that happens to have a number of memorials and it's dedicated to veterans, which is great," Roche said.

"When things are open to the public, and not all of them use it in a way we would like it to be used, how do you control that? Maybe the lights might make a difference, but if it's the folks who we think might be doing it – folks who are homeless – I don't really know that the lights would make a difference."

One name on the wall is Salvatore Cammarata from Buffalo. That name, Brusetti said, could have been his.

Both men were in the same army company near Tay Ninh province on the Cambodian border in February 1967.

"They sent our unit to block anyone coming in through the Ho Chi Minh Trail," Brusetti said. "He went out and took my place one night, and was the only one killed in the unit. He was hit by mortar."

The Vietnam Memorial was erected in July 1984 – and it remains emotional for many.

"That memorial means a lot," Brusetti said. "We have to respect the individuals who gave up their lives at a young age. I've had a decent life, a good life. But these individuals never had an opportunity to live full lives."

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