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Gunner's Mate Raymond Vargo
Gunner's Mate Raymond Vargo

Higgins presents 30-plus military service medals & ribbons earned by 7 local veterans


Mon, Jun 5th 2023 10:30 am

Article and Photos submitted by the Office of Congressman Brian Higgins

Congressman Brian Higgins recently honored seven Western New York veterans during a ceremony at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. Combined, the veterans – Frank Ivancic; the Obe family – Michael, Stanley and Steven; Gwen Hawkins-Rutledge; Thomas Schroeder- and Raymond Vargo – earned more than 30 military medals and ribbons for service to this nation.

“This is an incredible display of dedicated service by Western New York veterans representing three military branches who served a span of time ranging from World War II to the Gulf War,” Higgins said. “Their commitment, individually and collectively, is impressive and has been instrumental in protecting liberty for generations of Americans.”

Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park President and CEO Paul Marzello said, “We are inspired by the service and dedication of these seven local veterans. We are proud to host them and their families at the Naval Park to give them the honor and recognition they deserve."

Gunner’s Mate Raymond Vargo: Raymond Michael Vargo was born June 7, 1923, in Homestead, Pennsylvania, as the seventh of nine children to Michael and Mary Vargo. He will soon celebrate his 100th birthday.

On De. 14, 1942, he enlisted in the United States Navy. After attending naval training at Station Sampson, he served on the USS Black, a Fletcher-class destroyer vessel like the USS The Sullivans, which is featured at the Buffalo Naval Park. Raymond served as a gunner’s mate 3rd class and fought in eight campaigns in the Pacific Theater, including the Saipan and Iwo Jima battles, before his honorable discharge on Jan. 17, 1946.

After the war, Raymond was employed with Westinghouse in Pittsburgh before relocating to the company’s Buffalo location. On May 26, 1950, Raymond married Mary Lou Liskoff and, together, they had five sons. He retired from Westinghouse in 1983.

A firm believer in the importance of education, Raymond received the surprise of a lifetime when he received an honorary high school diploma at age 78, 60 years after leaving high school to serve in the war. He was the first veteran to receive this award from his hometown alma mater, Steel Valley High School.

Over the years, Ray enjoyed golfing and taking his family to Allegany State Park for camping vacations. He has six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, and resides in Cheektowaga.

For his service over 80 years ago, Ray was awarded:

√ WWII Victory Medal

√ American Campaign Medal

√ Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver star and two bronze stars representing participation in the Battle of New Guinea and the Battle to Liberate the Philippines from Japan.

√ Honorable Service Lapel Pin

√ Philippine Liberation Medal with one star for involvement in helping to liberate the Philippines – This medal is issued by the Republic of the Philippines.

The Ivancic family


Private First Class Frank Ivancic: Born in 1922, Frank Ivancic came from a family who dedicated themselves to serving the country. His brothers, Tony, Phil and Nick, all served in the United States Army. His sisters, Anne and Barbara, worked at Curtiss Wright during the war.

So, it was no surprise that Frank enlisted in the U.S. Army on Jan, 15, 1943. He served as a gunman in Battery C of the 496th AAA Gun Battalion during World War II. Frank battled for his country and for his life, suffering from malaria while stationed in the jungle. After three years of service, which included the campaign to liberate the Philippines in the Asian Pacific Theatre, he was honorably discharged on Jan. 19, 1946.

When he returned from the battlefield, Frank met his wife, Mary. Together, they had seven children: Thomas, Paul, John, Michele, Renee, Elaine and Ann Marie. Frank used the GI Bill to go to Alfred State University and Milwaukee School of Engineering. He retired as a longtime member of Steamfitters Local No. 395 in Buffalo.

Frank passed away on Aug. 18, 1998, at the age of 75, never receiving the military medals he earned while serving in World War II

The family accepted the following medals earned by Frank 80 years ago:

√ Good Conduct Medal

√ American Defense Service Medal

√ Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Two Bronze Service Stars

√ World War II Victory Medal

√ Philippine Liberation Ribbon with One Bronze Service Star

√ Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII

Obe family medals


•Obe family: As members of the Mohawk Tribe of Six Nations, Steven, Stanley and Mike, as well as several other members of the Obe family, chose a path forged by many of their Native American ancestors. Throughout our history, American and Alaskan Natives have served in the Armed Forces at five times the national average.

The Obe family


Sergeant Steven Obe: Steven Obe was born on April 1, 1948. He attended Hutchinson Central Technical High School in Buffalo and began his service with the United States Air Force in 1967. A year later, he married Ann Holmes. The couple had two daughters, Kimberly and Dawn, who were born at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where Steven was stationed after enlisting to serve in the Vietnam War. Steven quickly became a leader, rising to the rank of sergeant at age 21. He served six years before his honorable discharge in 1973.

After retiring from the military, Steven, who currently resides in Amherst, went on to be employed at FMC in Tonawanda, as a millwright skilled tradesman, where he continued until his retirement. Both of Steven and Ann’s daughters earned degrees from the State University of New York at Buffalo and are raising their families in Western New York. Steven is the grandfather of three children: Stephanie, Ana and Sonny.

For his years of dedicated service, Steven was awarded:

√ Air Force Good Conduct Medal

√ National Defense Service Medal

√ Vietnam Service Medal with Four Bronze Service Stars

Higgins also presented Steven with a Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

Corporal Stanley Obe: Stanley Obe was born in 1920 in Ontario, Canada, where he met his future wife, Audrey Hill. The couple came to Buffalo specifically to help in the World War II effort. Audrey became a U.S. Navy-certified welder and was employed with The Bison Shipbuilding Co. Stanley deployed with the U.S. Army in March 1943. Stationed in Egypt and central Europe as a radar crewman, he was engaged in the Central Europe and Rhineland campaigns with the 463rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion.

After his honorable discharge in November of 1945, Stanley married Audrey Hill at the Mohawk Chapel in Brantford, Ontario. They chose Buffalo to be their home and raised four children: Richard, Steven, Sueann and Michael. Audrey and Stanley served as caretakers of the cathedral located at Delaware Avenue and West Utica. Both were also employed at Deaconess Hospital on Humboldt Parkway, Audrey as a seamstress and Stanley as a maintenance worker. Stanley passed away on March 27, 2001, never receiving his medals.

On behalf of his father, Steven Obe and the family accepted the following medals awarded to Stanley:

√ European African Middle Eastern Service Medal with a double bronze star attachment

√ Good Conduct Medal

√ World War II Victory Medal

√ Honorable Service Lapel Button “The Ruptured Duck”

Specialist Michael Obe: Michael Obe was born in Buffalo on Aug. 5, 1958, and graduated from Hutchinson Central Technical High School. He began his service in the United States Army on Sept. 11, 1980, rising to the rank of specialist while stationed in Germany. After nearly six years of honorable service, he was discharged on Sept. 10, 1986. Upon returning home, Michael worked at FMC as a control room operator, and retired to Phoenix, Arizona. Michael passed away on Sept. 2, 2021, never receiving his medals.

Michael’s family was presented with the:

√ Good Conduct Medal

√ Army Service Ribbon

√ Sharpshooter Badge & Rifle Bar

√ Marksman Badge & Grenade Bar

Gwen Hawkins-Rutledge


Yeoman Second Class Gwen Hawkins-Rutledge: Gwen Hawkins-Rutledge first enlisted in the United States Navy at age 18 on Aug. 17, 1979, inspired by her father’s Navy service during WWII. Gwen served in the Navy for an incredible 16 years, rising to the rank of yeoman second class. It was in the Navy where she met her late husband, Henry Colon, both providing critical military computer and communications support.

Gwen was stationed at numerous locations stateside and abroad throughout her tenure. Her service includes support in the Gulf War’s Operation Desert Storm, assisting the Marines in the invasion of Grenada, and response following Hurricane Hugo in Puerto Rico.

Upon returning home, Gwen began a career serving her military brothers and sisters as an employee with the Buffalo VA Medical Center before her retirement. Gwen, a Cheektowaga resident, is still an active advocate for veterans, including years of volunteering with the Patriot Guard Riders.

For her years of service with the U.S. Navy, Gwen was awarded:

√ Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal

√ Meritorious Unit Commendation

√ Navy Good Conduct Medal

√ National Defense Service Medal

√ Humanitarian Service Medal

√ Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon with Two Bronze Service Stars

Thomas Schroeder and family


Sergeant Thomas Schroeder: Thomas Schroeder was born in Niagara Falls in 1946. He was the second-youngest of 13 children. He and his siblings attended Niagara School No. 2, a one-room schoolhouse that is now a museum in the Town of Niagara.

In 1965, at the age of 19, Thomas was drafted into the United States Army to serve during the Vietnam War. Assigned to the 3rd Infantry Regiment, he rose to the rank of sergeant and was honorably discharged in 1968. Thomas, who lives in North Tonawanda, married Jean, the love of his life, and, together, they had two children, Michael and Julie.

For his service 58 years ago, Michael was awarded:

√ National Defense Service Medal

√ Vietnam Service Medal

√ Combat Infantryman Badge

√ Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon with Device.

Higgins also presented Michael with the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

Veterans and their families are welcome to reach out to Higgins’ office for assistance with veteran health care, benefits, service medals, education or small business assistance, at 716-852-3501.

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