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Local veterans remembered with Wall of Honor plaques for Memorial Day

All five served their country during a time of war.

Four came home.

One didn’t.

And one returned only to battle the demons of war before taking his own life.

Ceremonies taking place across the Buffalo region over the long Memorial Day weekend got an early start at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park with a Wall of Honor ceremony on Saturday.

The Wall of Honor is a way for family and friends to pay tribute to loved ones who served by having their name inscribed on a small plaque mounted on the wall in the Naval Park’s Hangar Building.

Among the new inductees was Peter Schank.

Schank served 10 years in the Army National Guard, did three tours of duty in Afghanistan and carried the rank of captain. A graduate of St. Joseph Collegiate Institute and Canisius College, he earned a master’s in literature and was a wonderful writer, friends said.

But Schank also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and on Feb. 17, 2017, took his own life, said friend, Bill Chapin. Schank was 30.

That’s what led Schank’s friends from the Harmonie Lodge No. 699 in Amherst to place a plaque on the Wall of Honor, which now hangs in memory of Schank as well as veterans who suffered the same end.

In fact, the Masons have organized “The Battle Within Memorial Service” for 10 a.m. Monday at the Naval Park, not only to honor veterans who lost their battle with PTSD, but to raise awareness about the problem of veteran suicide.

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The service will include several speakers, an unveiling of a proposed monument at the Naval Park and resources available for veterans combating PTSD, said Mark Donnelly, one of the organizers of Monday's service.

“It’s really a big problem,” Donnelly said. “It’s now the leading cause of death in the military – 20 a day – and it has been that way since 1979.

“But it’s been flying under the radar and unless it touches people’s lives no one knows,” Donnelly said. “This whole event is trying to make sense out of the senseless – and raise awareness.”

Besides, Schank the others honored Saturday were:

• Richard C. Nicosia, a Maryvale High School graduate who served as a gunner’s mate and helmsman in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Nicosia later worked as a supermarket manager and letter carrier before he died of mesothelioma in 2016 at the age of 67.

• John Ptak, who grew up in Eden before becoming first lieutenant in the Army Air Corp during World War II, where he was a navigator on a B-24 Liberator that conducted long missions over enemy waters in the South Pacific. Ptak was a farmer, he operated a dairy and was later employed by Buffalo Sheet Metals, before his death in 1995 at the age of 75.

Paul Hulub, 92, one of inductees, makes his way to the podium. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

• Paul Hulub, who gave up scholarship offers to join the Marines during World War II, when he was among the Marine division to invade Okinawa and land at Nagasaki. The Town of Tonawanda resident, who went on to have a career in the FBI and Department of Defense, was at Saturday’s ceremony with his wife, Theresa. He is 92.

• Joseph O’Donnell, a Kenmore native and big brother to Theresa Hulub, who rose quickly through the ranks to become sergeant in the Army during World War II. He was killed in action on March 14, 1945, and buried among the thousands of American soldiers at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium. He was 19.

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