LOCKPORT – One of Lockport’s most prominent leaders of veterans’ organizations is sounding off against the city’s decision to allow a plaque honoring the city’s only Iraq War fatality to be placed in Veterans Park.
The sign memorializing Army Spc. Albert R. Jex, who died in Iraq in 2009, was approved unanimously by the Common Council June 3. It was suggested and created by Elaine Farchione, owner of Orleans Monument Co., the same company that created a memorial park bench honoring Jex. That bench, originally placed beside a sidewalk on Locust Street, was rebuilt and moved to Children’s Memorial Park on South Transit Street after the original was vandalized.
At the June 17 Council meeting, Mike Walker, past commander of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Lockport, as well as a former board chairman of the Navy-Marine Club, spoke out against the Jex plaque, insisting that Veterans Park should be reserved to honor veterans as a group, not as individuals.
“That was the first inkling I had that there was any objection,” Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said this week.
In an email to The Buffalo News, Farchione said there seems to be bad blood between the veterans groups and Cathy MacFarlane, Jex’s mother.
“Nothing personal against Mrs. MacFarlane,” Walker said in an interview. But he also said, “If you leave it up to his mother, he’ll have his name on every lamppost in downtown Lockport. There’s a time to say ‘when,’ and we’re saying ‘when.’ ”
Farchione emailed The News, “Whether it was one soldier or 101, every life that was given up to protect our freedom is important to acknowledge. My mind cannot get why anyone would not want this young man’s name in Veterans Park, along with all the other Lockport men and women who gave their lives protecting our country.”
Council President Joseph C. Kibler said Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano was asked to research whether there was any law or policy that gave the veterans groups any formal input or control over installations in the park. Ottaviano said there is no such law.
Walker, who sent a protest letter to McCaffrey about the Jex plaque, said he has talked to some aldermen about creating such a policy. Kibler said it might be discussed as soon as Wednesday.
MacFarlane said, “It’s a city park. It should be whatever the mayor and the Council want it to be.”
Farchione noted that there is a plaque in the park honoring by name the first Lockport residents to be killed in World War I and World War II.
“That was before it became Veterans Park,” Walker said. The name was changed from East Avenue Park in the late 1980s.
Walker said a plaque for Jex should be placed at the city’s Fallen Heroes Memorial, which was proposed for Outwater Park in 201. But that project appears to be dormant.
The memorial bench for Jex was created after the Council declined to name a bridge over the Erie Canal after him.
The Fallen Heroes project was started after the Council rejected a request to rename a park after Buffalo Patricia Officer Patricia Parete, a Lockport native who was shot on duty and paralyzed in 2006. She died in 2013.