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Veterans Day brings WNY's gratitude for those who served their country

Western New York's gratitude abounds today, Veterans Day, for the millions of service members who have defended the nation in war and peacetime.

Their duty and sacrifice span generations.

More names have been carved into the red granite of a local memorial to honor veterans who sacrificed their lives in the War on Terror.

Meanwhile, the name of yet another World War II sailor from Buffalo who perished with the five Sullivan brothers aboard the USS Juneau has come to light.

"Without those willing to serve, this country would be open to foreign adversaries destroying our representative government," said Patrick W. Welch, a Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

Since the Revolutionary War, Welch said, 48 million Americans have served in the Armed Forces.

"I would ask everyone on this Veterans Day to take a moment of silence at 11 a.m. to remember those Americans," Welch said.

List of service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan

Toll of terror

The original plan for the Iraq-Afghanistan War Memorial  at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park called for listing the names of about 65 individuals killed in action or in noncombat circumstances.

Army Green Beret Capt. Andrew D. Byers, 30, a former Clarence resident, died on Nov. 3, 2016, in a clash with the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.

As more information became available on those who died outside of combat, more names were added since the memorial's September 2014 dedication.

Seventy-eight individuals are now listed.

Among them is Army Green Beret Capt. Andrew D. Byers, Western New York's most recent killed-in-action casualty. Byers, 30, a former Clarence resident, died on Nov. 3, 2016, in a clash with the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.

"When you look at this memorial, it tells you of the commitment of our region," said Dan Frontera, one of the memorial's organizers. "To some extent this has become a back page story, but our neighbors and friends are still protecting us."

The names of several others who died in noncombat circumstances since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks have also been added in the last few years. They include Joshua D. Grotke, John J. Levulis, Michael A. Klose, Kevin S. Casey, and Joseph M. Clunie.

"We were not going to omit someone who had the courage to put on the uniform," said Frontera, an Iraq War veteran.

Retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Terry McGuire, who was deployed to Panama and later to Iraq, says the current generation of veterans, many younger than 50 and part of an all-volunteer force, have endured more than their share in defending the country.

“They are the 'one percenters' that people often cite,"said McGuire, 54, of Williamsville. "Many have deployed several times, shouldering the full brunt of our protracted military responsibilities and actions. This is a great departure from previous generations of warriors when the country spread out more democratically the human cost and toll of war.”

A mother's grief

Iraq War veteran Jonathon M. Cote, an Amherst resident, returned to Iraq as a civilian security contractor and was murdered with four other contractors after they were abducted in November 2006.

Lori Ann Silveri knows better than most how much war can exact from a family.

She is the mother of Iraq War veteran Jonathon M. Cote, an Amherst resident who returned to Iraq as a civilian security contractor and was murdered with four other contractors after they were abducted in November 2006.

"November is one of the most difficult months due to the anniversary of the kidnapping, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Jonathon was due to come home on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving," Silveri said.

But she is grateful for Veterans Day, even with the painful memories.

"These men and women eat, sleep and breathe this occupation," Silveri said. "It makes no difference what branch of the service, rank or where they are stationed. As a military wife of 20 years and the mother of a deceased veteran, I never forget our military and their families, especially at the loss of life."

That same sense of devotion is what motivates others to remember the sacrifice of veterans from decades ago.

A sister remembers

The Buffalo News published a story in September telling of a reunion for those who served on the USS The Sullivans, the ship named in honor of the Sullivan brothers.

Sophie Welsh noticed the plans to honor sailor Jerry Reilly of South Buffalo. It had recently been learned that Reilly had perished with the five brothers and nearly 700 other shipmates on the USS Juneau.

"I contacted the park and told them about my brother who was also on the Juneau," Welsh said.

Edmund Mozgawa was raised in Lackawanna.

"He died the day after he turned 19," Welsh said.

The USS Juneau, a light cruiser, was sunk  75 years ago on Nov. 13, 1942, in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Forty years ago, the decommissioned USS The Sullivans arrived  here and is a main attraction at the Naval and Military Park.

"I was five years old when my brother died," Welsh said. "My mom was doing the wash and there was a knock at the door and she was handed an envelope, probably a telegram. She didn't open it. She knew what it was and she looked up at the sky. I don't remember anything after that. But it's stayed with me all these years."

 

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