By Councilman Kenny Tompkins & Terry Ortt Tompkins
Dick Lacey. Gordon Ortt. Chester and John Gawel. Patricia Knibbs.
They’re not household names and yet they are REAL heroes in our community. These are just a few of the men and women from Niagara Falls who proudly served our country in World War II.
In the Tompkins’ house, all veterans, especially those who served in conflicts like WWII, are revered for their valor. Terry’s dad, Gordon Ortt, served in the U.S. Army 345th Engineer Regiment from 1942 to 1946 and was an MP in Italy. Before he was honorably discharge from his honest and faithful service to this country, Dad was awarded the Victory Medal; America Service Medal; European, African, Middle Eastern Service Medals; Good Conduct Medal; and the Bronze Star. Dad died in 2014 at 92, but will forever live on in our hearts as the hero he was at home and abroad.
Kenny’s uncle and Godfather, Thomas Schiro, was deployed and served in World War II at the same time as his brothers Paul, Joseph, and Hank. Uncle Tom served in the U.S. Army 8th Infantry Division from 1942 to 1945, earning four Bronze Stars for his valor during the Normandy campaign. He was to be awarded the Purple Heart but declined it because he didn’t want to worry his mother! While he never really talked about his service, Uncle Tom loved his family, city, and country. He showed his love through actions, not words, until he died in 1993 at age 73.
When we rebranded the Community Memorial Day Parade last year, these were the men who inspired us to honor those who sacrificed all for our freedoms. Since then, we’ve met several more World War II veterans who are living in our city. Their dedication and the sacrifices they made are immeasurable. It brings tears to our eyes when we think about what they experienced.
We would like to introduce them to you.
Chester Gawel, 95: Mr. Gawel served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946, receiving the Victory, American Campaign, European, African, Middle Eastern, Asiatic Pacific, and Philippine Liberation Medals.
John Gawel, 98: Mr. Gawel, Chester’s older brother, served in the U.S. Marines from 1942 to 1946. Mr. Gawel is a Purple Heart recipient. He was also awarded the Bronze Star and the Pacific Campaign Medal with four battle stars.
Harvey Albond, 89: Mr. Albond served in the U.S. Navy beginning in 1946. His service during that time earned him the Victory Medal. Mr. Albond went on to serve in the Korean War until 1953.
Bill Kressman, 97: Mr. Kressman served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945. He is a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star recipient.
Richard Lacey, 92: Mr. Lacey served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946 and received three Purple Hearts during this time.
Patricia Kribbs, 100: Ms. Knibbs served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. She was a Motor Transport Tec 5 and an MP during that time.
Cliff Brockway, 92: Mr. Brockway served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. On August 6, 1945, he was stationed at Nognog Island in the Pacific readying 100 war ships to invade Japan. A serviceman in a Jeep drove by with a sign that read “They dropped the atonus bomb on Japan.” At that time, no one knew what an atomic bomb was or its impact.
Dominic Etopio, in his 90s: Mr. Etopio served in the U.S. Marines from 1943 to 1945. He was stationed in the South Pacific and Guam.
Thomas Etopio, in his 90s: Mr. Etopio served stateside in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946.
While each of these people served in a different branch and in a different place, they share something in common. Each person recognized here, and countless more who we never met, felt a duty to serve their country. They were quite young at the time of their military service, yet they showed honor and courage beyond their years. They immeasurable sacrifice during their young adulthood ensured the freedoms we enjoy, and often take for granted, today.
Each year we lose more of these heroes. With them goes the honor, valor, and dedication to this nation with which they served. We lose a little more of our history, a little more of our pride in our country, and a little more inspiration to stand and fight for freedom against tyranny and to protect basic human rights.
We need to remember they are the Greatest Generation. We need to make sure that their sacrifices will be remembered and cherished for generations to come.
Join us on Saturday, May 27, at 10 am for the Community Memorial Day Parade on Pine Avenue, and for the Memorial Day ceremony at noon at the Niagara Falls Veterans Memorial. Let’s remember and honor all of those who sacrificed for our freedoms.