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Book recalls WNY's Vietnam dead

Patrick Kavanagh, a Vietnam veteran and Forest Lawn historian, spent two years compiling the death notices, obituaries and newspaper articles of the more than 500 servicemen and one woman from the eight counties of Western New York who died in the Vietnam War.

Through May 14, the fruits of Kavanagh's labor will be on display in the chapel at Forest Lawn as a tribute to those fallen heroes. It debuted Monday, 37 years to the day after the last U.S. military helicopter lifted out of Saigon.

"I just didn't want those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice to be forgotten. It's all about them," Kavanagh said, as family and friends of the deceased streamed into the Forest Lawn Chapel to view the book he compiled.

"In Remembrance Of" will be on display from 3 to 6 p.m. daily in the chapel for 15 days, one day for each year U.S. Armed Forces were involved in the Vietnam War.

On each viewing day, every hour on the hour, another page in the book of remembrance will be turned so that by the end of the display, all those represented in the book will have been on public view. Additional copies of the book are also available for viewing at the chapel. Forest Lawn volunteers will be on hand to help those seeking to look up deceased loved ones or friends.

Sandra Roemer and Rebecca Suttell of East Aurora were among the first two people waiting for the doors of the chapel to open Monday afternoon so they could view the page that contained the eulogy for Roemer's brother-in-law, Donald, who was 22 when he died in Vietnam in 1968.

"He was killed on Feb. 19, 1968, during the Tet Offensive," said Roemer.

Suttell added: "We have many high school friends who passed on in the war. We're of that age that it's part of our memory."

Kavanagh is of that generation. He served as an SP/5 medic in the Army from 1967 to 1970, including one year from October 1968 to October 1969 in Vietnam, before he was honorably discharged in July 1970.

"I was 19 when I was [in Vietnam]. Just to put things in somewhat of a perspective, we had a staff sergeant who had just turned 26 while he was over in Vietnam, and we called him 'Pops,' because we were all 18 and 19 and 20," Kavanagh said.

Lisa Whitlow, director of events at Forest Lawn, said the cemetery was honored to display Kavanagh's "labor of love."

"We are indebted to Pat for what he has done with recognizing Vietnam veterans, and we wanted to take this opportunity to showcase the two years of hard work that he's done," she said.

Richard Szczepaniec of Kenmore and Robin Macks of Amherst were two Forest Lawn volunteers directing visitors to additional copies of Kavanagh's book that are also on display at the cemetery.

While Szczepaniec is a veteran who served in Vietnam, Macks recalled that she protested the war during that period.

"I was a protester, though we never protested the men. The group that I belonged to always thanked every soldier and every sailor. We just disagreed with the reason for the war," she said.

"It's still important for people to remember the wonderful people who sacrificed their lives and their families. It's the way I feel," she added.