Shortly after Army Capt. Andrew Byers was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2016, his twin sister Lauren turned to her friend and lamented that there was no place in Clarence to honor townspeople who had been killed serving their country.
That inspired the friend, Clarence Rotarian Chrissy Casilio-Bluhm, to start work on the Clarence Veterans memorial, upon which the Town of Clarence, its Rotary Club, Clarence Citizens for Veterans and the American Legion Post 838 will break ground Monday.
A memorial fountain at Clarence Main Street Town Park will bear the names of every Clarence service member killed in action since the War of 1812. It is still gathering names of those killed in military service, which will also be added.
"We just want people to know who our heroes were in our community," Casilio-Bluhm said. "We want to do them justice."
Five granite honor walls will encircle the fountain, where name plates will be available to honor other Clarence veterans for an engraving fee, which can be arranged through the Clarence Rotary Club. Flags will also be added, including a much larger American flag and post than the one flying in the park now. The project is estimated to cost $500,000 (the Rotary Club is raising funds) and has a target completion date of Memorial Day 2020.
Capt. Byers was a highly decorated Clarence native, West Point graduate and Green Beret who had also served in Italy and the Republic of Congo. He was the commander of an elite Special Forces team on his third deployment when he was killed on a clearing operation with the Afghan military. He and other soldiers came under enemy fire as they disembarked from a helicopter.
"It’s very emotional to be honest with you because it doesn’t bring him back but it preserves his memory and honors him until beyond our time," Casilio-Bluhm said.
The groundbreaking ceremony will take place around 11:45 a.m. at the park, 10405 Main St. in Clarence.
Other Memorial Day events include:
- Paul Teutul, Sr., star of the reality show "American Chopper" and founder of the motorcycle manufacturer Orange County Choppers, will be in East Aurora Monday to unveil a custom motorcycle built to honor veterans of the Vietnam War. The bike was donated by Sahlen Packing Co. to help raise money for the Vietnam War Memorial Wall planned for Knox Farm State Park. The Aurora Theater, 673 Main Street, will screen an episode of "American Chopper" featuring the design and building of the Veteran-themed bike at 4 p.m. The event goes until 7 p.m. and will include a meet and greet with Teutul.
- The Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park will host a series of events from 9:30 a.m. to noon Monday at the museum, 1 Naval Park Cove. It will begin with a service on the USS Little Rock to honor the 7,300 veterans who died by suicide associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression in 2018 alone. The service will include color guards, drill teams and a flag folding ceremony. At 10:15 a.m., a procession of Freemasons in full regalia will travel from the USS Little Rock to the Battle Within Memorial Site. At 10:30 a.m. there will be a Masonic Cornerstone Laying ritual and the unveiling of the Battle Within Monument, which is dedicated to service members with PTSD and depression. There will also be music throughout the morning by the Buffalo Niagara Concert Band.
- Grand Army of the Republic Ceremony at 1 p.m. Sunday at Forest Lawn, 1411 Delaware Ave. The Grand Army of the Republic was a group of Union army veterans who lobbied to create a national Memorial Day.
- City of Lackawanna Hometown Heroes banner installation. Banners honoring Lackawanna service members who served in wars from World War I to those in Iraq and Afghanistan will be dedicated at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the VFW Post 898, 2909 South Park Ave.
- VFW Post 6251 Ceremony at 1 p.m. Sunday at St. Matthew's Cemetery, 180 French Road in West Seneca
- Erie County American Legion Ceremony, 9 a.m. Monday at Forest Lawn
- Opening of the new World War I exhibit with live music by 23 Skidoo, 9:30 a.m. Monday at Forest Lawn
- Town of West Seneca Veterans Committee Ceremony, 9 a.m. Monday at St. Matthew's Cemetery
- Lamm Post 622 and Amherst VFW Post 416 Ceremony, Monday at 11 a.m., Williamsville Cemetery event, 5402 Main St.
- The Jesse Clipper no. 430 Unit Auxiliary and local officials will present the family of late veteran Norman C. Wyatt with service medals. Wyatt, father of Buffalo Councilman Rasheed Wyatt, died in 1963 while serving in the Army. It will take place at 2 p.m. Monday at the Jesse Clipper Monument, Michigan Avenue and William Street.
Memorial Day parades:
- The Town of Tonawanda, 11 a.m. Monday beginning at Delaware Avenue between Sheridan Drive and Chatsworth Avenue
- Town of Clarence, 11 a.m. Monday at Clarence Main Street Town Park
- Depew, 10:30 a.m. Monday at Veterans Park, 582 Terrace Blvd.
- Williamsville, 2 p.m. Monday at Williamsville High School
- West Seneca, 10:30 a.m. Monday at Southgate Plaza
- West Falls, 10 a.m. Monday on Davis Road
- Lewiston, 11 a.m. Monday on Center Street
- Village of Hamburg, 10 a.m.
- Village of Perry, 10 a.m. Main Street
- Village of Sinclairville, 9 a.m.
- Orchard Park, 9 a.m. on South Buffalo Street
- Lancaster, 9 a.m. on Lake Avenue