REMEMBERING — Pictured is Hamburg’s 1967 Veterans Day ceremony in the village park. Only one person could be identified in the photo. Former Hamburg Village Mayor Joseph “Jerry” Castiglia is standing in the middle of the group, fifth from the right. Photo was taken from the historian’s files.
HAMBURG — It was a cold, dark day in November 1967,when this group of town officials gathered at the monument in the village park, to honor those men and women who fought in our nation’s wars. That Veterans Day scene is repeated today, in parks, churches and town halls all over the country, as Americans pause in their busy lives to pay homage to our veterans.
As this scene was taking place, the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War, one of the most unpopular wars in its history. That conflict, which lasted from 1964 – 1975, divided the country and resulted in tragic tolls on many American families, including at least seven from the town of Hamburg.
Recently, Patrick Kavanaugh, a Kenmore resident and a Vietnam veteran, wrote a book entitled “In Remembrance Of,” which chronicles the fate of more than 500 area soldiers who were killed or went missing, during the Vietnam War.
From the words of surviving families, to the thoughts of soldiers in their final letters, the book, available at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, has many poignant passages designed to make a lasting impression.
From one particularly piercing and pervasive letter: “Mama, I’ve done it again,” wrote 19-year-old Marine Cpl. Gary Doctor in October 1966. “I’ve got a job over here and I’m going to stay.” Doctor rejected an offer of stateside service, after the Marines discovered that his brother, Bruce, was also serving in Vietnam. Gary Doctor did not return home alive.
Hamburg soldiers remembered in the book include Anthony Brese, who volunteered to stay in Vietnam and was one of 10 men killed on Christmas Eve by an off-target artillery shell. The 22-year-old soldier lived on Marlowe Avenue in Blasdell and wanted to be a teacher. Before he was drafted and entered the service, he attended Buffalo State College and Canisius College.
Joel Brown, a 1963 Frontier High School graduate, joined the United States Army in the spring of 1965 and suffered a fatal shell fragment wound, while serving with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment in South Vietnam. The division was participating in a combat operation north of Saigon, in an area known as Junction City.
Spc. William Keeler of Parker Road in Hamburg was killed by mortar fire near Bu Prang on Dec. 1, 1968. He was a 19-year-old Green Beret paratrooper. He enlisted in the Army in September 1967 and served two tours in Vietnam, volunteering for the second six-month extension. During his first tour, he was awarded a Purple Heart and the Air Medal. The young soldier was a former student at Hamburg High School.
Spc. John Levulis of Blasdell died of injuries suffered in a helicopter crash, on Feb. 21, 1971 in Southeast Asia. He was assigned to the 498th Medical Company, which evacuated casualties from Laos. The 1967 graduate of Frontier High School also attended Midwestern College in Dennison, Iowa, for a year, before he was drafted in 1969.
Sgt. Michael Swieczkowski of East Eden Road in Hamburg died May 20, 1967, from wounds suffered in a mine blast near Chu Lai. He had been previously wounded by a mine in the same area, but had returned to duty. He was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division and did his basic training at Fort Knox in Kentucky, and Fort Ord in California. The Hamburg native was a 1966 Hamburg High School graduate.
Capt. Richard Massari, an Air Force pilot who was killed in 1968 when his jet crashed in Thailand, was the only child of Albrico Massari of Oxford Terrace in the Locksley Park area of the town of Hamburg. His wife Sylvia was a Tucson, Ariz. native. He graduated from Lackawanna High School and the University of Alabama.
Capt. Herbert Rice died in 1967, when his plane crashed near Da Nang, Vietnam. He was a native of Olean, before his family moved to Hamburg in 1945 and lived on Hunt Avenue in the village. He graduated from Hamburg High School, where he played football. He also graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1957. He and the former Denise Crowley of Hamburg were married and had four children.
Remember these seven young hometown heroes, along with all of the men and women who have served in our country’s wars. Pay homage to their sacrifices, to defend our country and preserve our freedom.
“In Remembrance Of” material was made available to Town Historian Jim Baker by Bob Kenefic, historian for the American Legion Post 527.