Students, residents, and veterans gathered at Valley Central High School on November 9 at 10 a.m. for the school’s annual Vietnam Memorial Ceremony, a dedication honoring six Valley Central graduates who sacrificed their lives while fighting in the Vietnam War.
The Valley Central Student Government Association established this Vietnam monument on May 29, 1989, and recently moved it to the front of the high school.
The six veterans included Thomas Edward Adams, Gary Bruce Baker, Robert Francis Berger, Jimmie Van Bock, Steven Matarazo and Robert French Starbuck.
The ceremony opened with a prayer from Bob Santo, a member of American Legion Post 521, then a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance led by student Tyshaun Mitchell, and a performance of “Star-Spangled Banner” sung by student Taylor Longo. Ronald Feller, the Town of Montgomery’s supervisor, spoke throughout the ceremony and introduced the other speakers.
“I can’t tell people how thankful we are for their support,” Feller said.
Brian Maher, New York State Assemblyman and a member of the United States Navy Reserve who graduated from Valley Central, recounted his experiences working for the late Senator Bill Larkin and emphasized the importance of memorializing veterans.
“Senator Larkin was a World War II veteran; he was an army project officer who guarded Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy on his historic trip to Germany. He taught me about what it means to be a public servant, a statesman and how to respect those who served and paved the way for us to have the freedoms that we have today,” Maher said.
“Here at this rededication, we honor folks like Senator Larkin and folks like all of you who have served and always let you know that future generations will keep your service and sacrifice. Because they’ll know when it’s their time to be called, they will defend freedom and they will defend citizens of this country in any which way they possibly can,” he continued.
Steven Brescia, Village of Montgomery mayor and Valley Central graduate, expressed his gratitude toward the dedication and the community for commemorating these men who served.
“There’s nothing more noble than to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and that’s what these six gentlemen did. They served our country and our community proud. It’s good to see the VFW here, the American Legion, former mayors, mayors, county executive, the sheriff, the students, the Eagle Scouts…it says a lot for our community,” Brescia said. “This is going to be here for years to come. This flag bears striking resemblance to the Veteran Cemetery in Goshen. It’s just absolutely beautiful and it’s going to show our youth what this country was built on.”
Steve Neuhaus, Orange County executive, and a US Navy Reserve commander, spoke about a recent discovery of a Vietnam veteran who was nearly forgotten and stressed why preservation matters.
“This past Monday, we went to an American Legion Breakfast in Monroe, and a couple came up to us. The husband was a Vietnam veteran, and his wife said ‘Do you know what happened the last couple of weeks?’ They found an unmarked grave in the cemetery on the side of a Vietnam veteran in Orange County who died at about 20 years old. They dug up a grave mark that was buried for at least three decades,” Neuhaus explained.
“When you’re a military person like myself, we have a phrase: when you die, sometimes you die twice. You die physically, and then you die second when people forget about you. It’s such a beautiful testament that the student body put this up in 1989,” he continued.
Following these speakers, Valley Central Superintendent Evette Avila listed the six men’s names while Feller rang a bell of honor. Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars then swapped out the monument’s flag with one provided by Berger’s family; their flag was hung half-mast and remained on the flagpole for the rest of the day before being returned.
The ceremony concluded with performances from Maybrook’s Troop 236 Scout band, led by Jim Barnett, and closing comments from Avila.
“The first thing you see is this monument, in honor of these six men, and understand the legacy that continues, not only through the lives of their families but through Valley Central as well. The students are here today, they fully understand why we’re here today, and this legacy will continue. They will not be forgotten.”