By Benjamin Joe
On Feb. 19, the Niagara County Legislature officially recognized Niagara County as a Purple Heart County and joined municipalities across the country, including El Dorado County of California, Erie County of New York and Jackson County of Missouri, in honoring its Purple Heart constituents.
Recently, officials gathered at the first sign to bear the Purple Heart County identification on Niagara Falls Boulevard in the Town of Wheatfield.
Niagara County Clerk Joe Jastrzemski spearheaded the push for the Niagara County legislation.
“What an honor it was, and thank the Niagara County Legislature for declaring Niagara County as a Purple Heart County,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough to do that, and we’re excited to continue to promote our veterans here in Niagara County along with our Purple Heart initiative.”
Jastrzemski said 278 Purple Heart recipients had signed “our original Purple Heart book” stating they were residents of Niagara County.
“We’re planning another ceremony in 2020,” he continued. “We’re hoping to hold the ceremony in conjunction with the Vietnam veterans chapter here in Niagara County that is bringing in (former halfback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient) Rocky Bleier.”
As officials, including Town of Wheatfield Supervisor and Purple Heart recipient Don MacSwan, walked over the bridge for a photo opportunity by the sign, 7th District Legislator Jesse Gooch explained his admiration for those who’ve received a Purple Heart – one of the most prestigious honors available.
“I’m just very grateful that we can declare Niagara County a Purple Heart County,” he said. “We also have Purple Heart parking at the County building in Lockport. We want to be able to showcase and honor the Purple Heart veterans as much as we can and this is another way to do that.”
“I have not (been in military service),” Gooch continued. “But my father is a Vietnam veteran, he served three tours in Vietnam, and both of my grandfathers were both in World War II. So, I’m from a veteran family.”
Gooch said that there are many veteran services in the county and it would also be good to expand on them.
“I was thrilled about it,” MacSwan said of Niagara County becoming a Purple Heart County.
A medic during Vietnam, receiving two Purple Hearts, MacSwan has written a book on his experiences. “Doc” was written by both MacSwan and his son, Shawn.
“I have a very strong feeling about veterans,” he said. “I was wounded twice; I was also a combat medic, so, I had a lot of guys dies in my arms, too. So, I think it (the sign) is exceptional.”