Viet Vet Service Kicks Off Memorial Day,
2 WWII Combat Vets Lead Utica Parade

UTICA, June 2011 – Two World War II combat veterans led Utica's Memorial Day Parade on Monday afternoon, May 30, which capped a day of remembrance for Amercian servicemen and women who never made it home from war.

Utica Post 229 Color Guard

Col. Gary Howard and Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Morrell ride the Oneida County 40 & 8 locomotive.

Shriners’ Ziyara Zanies Motor Clowns

Preceded only by Utica Police and Fire Department Color Guards, Utica veterans John Loperfido and Phil Capraro led the 50-unit parade as grand marshals. Both men were part of the landing forces that stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day. Loperfido, a member of the Army Air Corps, was attached to the Amphibian 336th Engineer Combat Unit, spending time in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. He received the French Croix De Guerre Medal, among others. Capraro, assigned to the 42nd Infantry Rainbow Division, was wounded during the D-Day landing. Later, while engaged at the Siegfried Line, Capraro was wounded for a second time, and awarded two Bronze Stars for heroic action. On December 16, 1944 at the "Battle of the Bulge," Capraro was wounded for a third time. In addition to the Bronze Stars, he holds three Purple Hearts and several other decorations.

Earlier in the day Loperfido and Capraro also kicked off a series of memorial services at six monuments around Utica by placing a wreath at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Oneida Square. Col. Gary Howard, a retired Army chaplain, and his assistant, Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Morrell, led the crowds of veterans, Gold Star Mothers and others in prayer at the sites, which  included the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Parkway, the POW-MIA Monument on the Parkway, the World War I/World War II/Korean War Monument on the Parkway, the Purple Heart Park in West Utica, and the All Veterans Memorial at Utica’s Main Post Office on Pitcher Street.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Sergeant Morrell read a portion of Psalm 91, which, Colonel Howard noted, is prayed to troops heading into combat. "We raise up in prayer those who have fallen," Colonel Howard said, "especially the nearly 100 from Oneida County" killed in Vietnam.

"We also raise up those who have sacrificed," he added, referring in particular to Vietnam War Gold Star Mothers Shirley Jones and Mary Wheeler, who placed a wreath at the monument.

Jones and Wheeler, along with Iraq war Gold Star Mother Maria Babula, also participated in a 9 a.m. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Service at American Legion Post 229 in North Utica that kicked off Utica's Memorial Day activities.

Noting that the purpose of the day was "to remember our war dead," Utica Post 229 Commander Chris Urban welcomed everyone to the service and said: "Since the U.S. came into existence, over one million men and women have died in defense of our country. In Vietnam, we lost 58,267." That included, from Oneida County, "nearly 100 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines."

As Tom Buono of Vietnam Veterans of America/Utica Chapter 944 read the name of each Oneida County resident killed in Vietnam, past Post 229 Commander Tony Palladino rang a bell and a contingent of Vietnam veterans rendered a salute.

Utica Post 229 and the City of Utica co-sponsored the parade, which stepped off at Genesee and Eagle streets and continued up Genesee to the Parkway. The post also led a committee of veterans' organizations that planned the day's activities, with Paul Wojcik serving as chairman.

In addition to elected officials and a number of veterans groups (American Legion, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AmVets, Vietnam Veterans of America, Polish Legion of American Veterans, Disabled American Veterans, and various Auxiliary Units), Wojcik said the parade featured Utica Police and Fire Departments, New York State Police, Oneida County Sheriff's Department, volunteer fire departments (Deerfield, New York Mills, Yorkville and Schuyler), Gold Star Mothers and Fathers, World War II veterans Kathleen Murphy Brooks and Bonnie Mulvihill, Centro Bus, the Shriners’ Ziyara Zanies Motor Clowns, the Navy Jr. ROTC cadets from both Proctor and Notre Dame High Schools, POW/MIA floats, Army National Guard's 107th MP Company, U.S. Marine Corps recruiters, Compeer "Vet to Vet" Group, Central New York Veterans Outreach Center, Herkimer County Marine Corps League, Children of the American Revolution, Boy Scouts of America, St. David's Welsh Society, Knights of Columbus Color Guard, Utica Post 229 Color Guard, Utica Post 229 Poppy Princess Isabella Kelly, Oneida County 40 & 8 Locomotive, La Banda Rosa, Proctor High School Marching Band, and Donovan JFK Middle School Marching Band, among others.

The parade's theme, Wojcik noted, was: "Honoring Our Past to Ensure Our Future: A Grateful Nation Remembers."