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Published: August 18, 2009 11:29 pm

TONAWANDA: For all who served


TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Tuesday afternoon a monument — made of new marble, supported by new concrete and surrounded by new sod — was dedicated in honor of our nation’s oldest ideals and the local men and women who have laid their lives on the line to protect them.

Gen. Colin Powell, the event’s keynote speaker, talked about the unity embodied by all those charged with protecting our country’s freedoms. The monument, surrounded by flags representing all six branches of the military, jogged Powell’s memory to a time when he saluted a Marine as head of the joint chiefs of staff. The Marine asked if he minded saluting someone who wasn’t one of his own, since Powell was an Army guy.

Recognizing his position over all branches of the armed forces, Powell quipped “You are all mine.”

The general’s remarks carried through all major U.S. military conflicts, and while he quoted Tom Brokaw’s term “the greatest generation” in describing those who served during World War II, Powell added that those in every generation since performed their own achievements making them eligible to be added to that category. In his travels, Powell said he has met soldiers who stayed in the hospital only long enough to get prosthetic limbs to replace those they lost, then asked to be returned to their friends in battle. The dedication evident in such a request is something Powell said makes the modern soldier just as worthy of such a title.

And it’s not just the young people in battle who received the general’s praise. Peter Rizzo, 25, co-chairman of the steering committee that made the monument a reality, came back from a visit to Washington, D.C. with a vision of creating a monument in his hometown. Six years later, after enlisting the help of Councilman Dan Crangle and many others along the way, hard work has turned Rizzo’s wishful thinking into a reality.

“Sometimes it is the youngest people in our community who understand what’s important,” Powell said.

Unifying the community in support of local veterans and the notion of service was a main point of the many speeches delivered. The names on the monument are plainly emblazoned on the marble surface without rank, and Rizzo said that’s no mistake. The memorial was constructed to recognize the service of each person, regardless of the time period in which they served or the rank they were able to achieve. The privates who died young in battle are listed equally alongside generals who returned to their families.

“Rank is an honor in and of itself, but service is the thread that unites them all,” Rizzo said.

Ralph Sirianni, the monument’s designer and a Vietnam veteran himself, was happy about that response. Initially he was worried that the 7-foot “V” shaped sculpture would take some getting used to for town residents that prefer their monuments more traditional. But after seeing the reaction, he said he was glad to see people taking to it.

“For me it stands for veteran, valor, and on a personal note, for vision,” Sirianni said.