Blue Star Mothers Unveil Monument, Trees At Veterans Memorial Park

The recently relocated Veterans Memorial Park on West Third Street received a new memorial honoring fallen soldiers from the area.

On Saturday, the memorial was dedicated by the Lake Erie New York Chapter 4 Blue Star Mothers to families of the seven Gold Star heroes from Chautauqua County.

The 10 a.m. dedication ceremony was open to the entire community, and was intended as a memoriam to the service and lives of six area U.S. army soldiers and one area U.S. Marine Corps soldier who were lost during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The soldiers are: Sgt. Kevin White, U.S. Army; Sgt. James Matteson, U.S. Army; PFC Patrick May, U.S. Army; Pvt. Charles Cooper, U.S. Army; Sgt. Jonathan Gollnitz, U.S. Army; Sgt. Philip Witkowski, U.S. Army; and LCpl. Aaron Swanson, U.S. Marine Corps.

The national Blue Star Mothers organization was conceived during World War II to provide support for active duty personnel, promote patriotism and assist veterans’ organizations across the country. Its membership is comprised of those who now have or have had children serving in the U.S. military, while the Gold Star families are those who have lost a family member during military service.

According to Susan Rowley, president of the Lake Erie Blue Star Mothers, having a local memorial for these soldiers was something that she felt needed to be done.

“There are seven soldiers from Chautauqua County that have passed since 2004 in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Rowley, prior to the ceremony. “That’s where our sons and daughters have served, and there’s not a memorial for all of them anywhere in Chautauqua County. When we did the relocation of Veterans Memorial Park, we thought that it needed to be done there. It hit me that day-it was one of those moments where I just knew that this needed to be done.”

Many local, area and state dignitaries were present at the ceremony, including: U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning; state Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-C-I Chautauqua County; state Sen. Cathy Young, R-C-I-Olean, Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards and Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi. Succeeding individual comments from each of these representatives, the memorial was unveiled.

The memorial plaque states: “In memoriam to those whose lives were lost during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. It is because of these sacrifices that their families are honored with this Gold Star memorial. May their sacrifices never be forgotten.”

Also included on the plaque is a Laurence Binyon poem entitled, “For the Fallen,” and the words, “May we never forget.”

Following the presentation and the dedication of the memorial, the names of the Chautauqua County’s seven fallen soldiers were read aloud, with an individual white balloon released after each name. A speech was then given by the ceremony’s keynote speaker, LTC Timothy Wright of U.S. Air Force civil affairs, followed by a three-volley salute and colorguard presentation by the Vietnam Veterans of America.

In addition, five cherry trees were planted at the park, adding to two others which had been planted during last year’s park dedication ceremony. While the memorial is specifically for our area’s Gold Star heroes, the seven trees serve to honor all soldiers who have died in service to the country.

“We’re so lucky to live in Western New York, (because of) the beautiful seasons we have and the beautiful outdoors,” said Young. “And when we think about these trees: they’ll be growing all summer, and in the fall, the leaves will turn brown and they’ll fall from the trees just like the tears that fall from our eyes when we remember those whom we’ve lost. And they’ll be dormant all winter long. But in the springtime, on days like today, they once again will come alive, and flower and be a beautiful reminder of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.”

“We wanted to do something to honor (the Gold Star families),” said Rowley. “I’m hoping that every time someone is driving down Third Street, they’ll see (the trees) and remember those soldiers and their families. That’s why we decided that the trees should honor all veterans.”

The ceremony also featured: bagpipes, performed by Jack Patterson; musical renditions of the National Anthem and “God Bless America” by Susan Rowley; an invocation provided by Rev. Robert Lewis, pastor of Falconer First Baptist Church; memorial dedication by Kathleen Collver, member of the Blue Star Mothers; a benediction provided by Rev. William Blair, pastor of the New Creation Assembly of God Church; and the participation of local Patriot Guard Riders.