All Lewiston vets are now eligible to be recognized on honor stones
Just before the Fourth of July holiday, the Lewiston Veterans of Foreign Wars has announced it will embark on a major project that will transform the current Veterans Memorial at Academy Park into a "Circle of Honor" that will pay tribute to Lewiston veterans who have served this country.
Organizers said they believe the "Circle of Honor," featuring an eternal flame, will be one of the most distinguished small-town memorials in America.
Moreover, the local VFW Downriver Post 7487 has changed its policy and now any veteran, living or deceased, who has been born, raised, lived or worked in the Village or Town of Lewiston, and has been honorably discharged, will be eligible to have his or her name inscribed on the granite honor stones.
"We want to be more inclusive," said William Justyk, volunteer commander of the post. "Now hundreds of Lewiston veterans will have the chance to be honored. Anyone can apply to have family members, friends or loved ones included on the new memorial. And there will be no restrictions regarding the time of service. We'll go back to the War of 1812."
Project organizers said they are enthusiastic about several site changes that will be part of the dramatic renovation.
Vince Canosa, volunteer coordinator representing the post, outlined the new features.
•The center of the memorial will be a new, 23-foot-diameter granite platform that features a large engraved image of the United States eagle defense symbol, along with the words, "United States of America" and "Veterans of Foreign Wars Downriver Post 7487."
Canosa said, "This impressive and awe-inspiring presentation will be unique to Western New York and will not only provide a significant and impressive entrance to the memorial, but also a profound and eloquent statement that honors those who have served."
•The current eternal flame will be repositioned within the granite centerpiece for safety and other practical purposes. At present, while the flame is enclosed on the sides by a plastic shield, the top is open to the elements and it is often extinguished by rain and wind. Putting the flame within the centerpiece should make it safer for children and protect it from the weather.
•To highlight the significance of the eternal flame, there will be an engraving above it with the words, "America's Flame Burns Brightly, Fueled by the Courage and Sacrifice of Those Who Have Defended Our Freedoms."
Also, the current bronze plaque, which was dedicated on May 30, 1955, will be preserved and included as part of the new memorial, along with a new plaque that chronicles the re-dedication.
•With the opening of eligibility to all veterans who have an association with Lewiston (born, raised, educated, lived or worked in Lewiston) the number of names on the memorial will significantly multiply.
To be included, the VFW will ask applicants to fill out a form that can be accessed online at the Lewiston VFW website, lewistonvfw.org
, along with a copy of proof of honorable service, and a donation of $150.
As more names are added in the future, more granite stones will be erected around the circle to accommodate the requests.
•Currently, because of the landscape geography, the memorial has a step-down to view the stone memorials.
"That will be addressed," said Harry Raby, a VFW member and part of the organizing committee. "The center platform and the honor stones will all be on the same level and more convenient for visitors and families to see their loved ones' names. No one will have to step down to experience the dignity and tribute the site represents."
•The current flagpoles, which are non-proportional, will be replaced with more modern and height-appropriate poles that will display the American and POW flags. The new poles will have upgraded LED lighting for better illumination at night, as well as energy efficiencies.
The VFW is currently conducting a fundraising effort to finance the project, which is estimated to be about $200,000. A GoFundMe website has been created to enable to those interested in supporting the project to donate online via credit card or PayPal. The website is: gofundme.com/circleofhonor
"You can also find it by Googling 'Lewiston NY Circle of Honor.' No matter where you are in the world, you can easily support the project with just a few clicks," Justyk said. "All donations are needed and appreciated. This is the largest project we've ever undertaken, and we encourage our fellow civic organizations and local citizens to share our links with their social media and email contacts."
Individuals donating $100 or more will receive a specially minted, commemorative two-inch-diameter "Circle of Honor" antique gold coin that features the American eagle defense symbol on one side and the profile of the new memorial with the enclosed eternal flame on the reverse.
This keepsake coin will be held for generations as a reminder to families and loved ones of the service and sacrifice of area veterans.
Business and corporate support has already been received from DiMino Tops Lewiston, Modern Disposal, the Village Bake Shoppe, the Kiwanis Club of Lewiston, Deal Realty, The Spicey Pickle and Favorites Pizza.
Additional donations from businesses, individuals and other nonprofit groups are gratefully accepted. Those interested in contributing are welcomed to contact Canosa at 716-343-4358.
The VFW also hopes to supplement its revenue through non-tax sources such as New York Power Authority funds.
The Village of Lewiston has previously donated the land where the existing memorial is located. The new memorial will be constructed on the same footprint as the current memorial.
"Overall, our mission is clear and we are working to combine multiple funding sources. There are a lot of moving parts to this project and we are hoping for a rededication ceremony either at Veteran's Day in 2019 or Memorial Day 2020, depending on our progress," Justyk said. "Either way, good things are worth waiting for; and, once this is up, it will stand for generations as the way our community expresses its appreciation to those who have preserved and protected the freedoms we all enjoy. We want to make Lewiston proud."