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Vets groups raise funds for security cameras for vandalized Youngstown memorial

YOUNGSTOWN – Two local chapters of the Vietnam Veterans of America will be making a donation toward the potential purchase of security cameras to guard the veterans memorial in Veterans Park, which was vandalized in late 2014.

The donation is being made in honor of Vietnam veteran and Youngstown resident Francis “Frank” Daniel Zuhlke, who died Oct. 28. The memorial was restored and rededicated this past Veterans Day.

Gordon Bellinger of Pendleton, treasurer of the Niagara County Chapter 268 of the veterans organization, said his group, along with the Niagara Falls Chapter 681, of which Zuhlke was a life member, will be presenting a check for $600 to the village. They will make the presentation at the Youngstown Village Board meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in Village Hall.

He said his chapter has received $475 in donations made in Zuhlke’s name. His chapter and the Niagara Falls chapter gave additional funds to bring the total to $600.

“Frank was a door gunner on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam, protecting us,” Bellinger said. “We thought giving the money that was donated in his name to Youngstown for security cameras was just like him still flying in his gunship, protecting the veterans memorial in Youngstown.”

Bellinger said Zuhlke was a “well decorated veteran,” earning the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor among many other commendations.

“He was a member of the Navy Seawolves – they were a pretty aggressive group,” Bellinger said. “His squadron flew an average of 600 missions a year.”

Youngstown Mayor Raleigh Reynolds said the Village Board was pleasantly surprised to hear of the donation.

“I think it’s tremendous that these organizations are coming to help us with this,” he said.

The memorial was damaged between Dec. 30 and Dec. 31, 2014, when someone smashed Plexiglas panels protecting the lists of names of veterans from Youngstown and Porter. The lists of more than 1,300 names – dating back to the American Revolution – were torn from the three-sided monument and discarded nearby. No arrests were ever made.

All facets of the community helped raise funds for the restoration of the memorial, including an ambitious campaign at nearby Lewiston-Porter schools. Village Clerk Cindy Tripoli said $6,678 was spent restoring the memorial. Reynolds said the remaining $2,201, also kept in a dedicated account by the village, is to be used for maintenance of the memorial and, possibly, security cameras.

“We have two trustees who have just started looking into the camera,” Reynolds said.