Article and photos by Michael J. Billoni
With the dedication of the Charles N. DeGlopper Memorial scheduled for June 5, 2021, its expansion project committee decided to take fundraising initiatives to a new level this week through and continue it through the end of the year. The goal is to complete fundraising needs by raising $100,000.
They say when you need something done, you go to a busy person. The committee’s fundraising chairman is Chris Taylor, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a Gold Star Family member. He had every reason to say no to being one of three veterans participating in the committee’s new “Boots on the Ground” initiative over the next six weeks. He has two boys under the age of 3 at home and his Certified AutoBrokers company on Grand Island Boulevard is in the process of beginning a major expansion of the business that includes the demolition of a current building.
“Seeing this memorial finally completed means so much to me personally and to this community that I will do everything I can to ensure it is done properly,” he said.
Beginning next week, Taylor and fellow veterans, former Town Board Member Gary Roesch and Ray DeGlopper, a nephew of Charles, will visit each business in town on foot, delivering materials about the DeGlopper Memorial while asking for financial support. At the same time, each Island residence will receive a direct mail letter and solicitation for funds that coincides with Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
“We need $100,000 to close our fundraising gap and that will allow us to complete the installation of the statue, complete a number of engravings, install the bricks on the path from the KIA monument to the statue, the installation of benches and some other items,” Taylor said during an interview in cramped quarters at his auto sales office, which is about to receive a major renovation. “We are so excited we are this close to completion.”
DeGlopper, a member of American Legion Post 1346, said he is extremely impressed with the role Taylor has played on the committee: “He is very dedicated to this project and what amazes me is he is volunteering his time while running an extremely successful business at the same time. I have a ton of respect for him.”
DeGlopper’s passion as a committee member is to finally see the life-sized statue of his uncle become reality.
Charles N. DeGlopper, a soldier in the U.S. Army, posthumously received the Medal of Honor – the highest award given – for his heroic actions and sacrifices of life during the early stages of The Battle of Normandy in World War II.
Taylor, who grew up in a family of military veterans on Grand Island, knew the military was his calling upon graduating from Grand Island High School in 1999 after his first two years at Cardinal O’Hara High in Tonawanda. He was always in awe of the DeGlopper story, but for him The DeGlopper Memorial Site, at Grand Island Boulevard and Baseline Road in the center of town, is much more personal.
In addition to the DeGlopper statue in the center of a Gold Star that is flanked by the logo of each branch of the armed services, there is the Killed In Action (KIA) monument of former Grand Island residents at the south end of the park. The committee has taken each of those names, found a photo and their story, and has placed them on weather-proof stations for all to read.
Included is Army Sgt. Phillip C. Taylor of Grand Island, one of the first U.S. soldiers killed on Cambodian soil during an air strike near the border of Cambodia and South Vietnam during the tail end of the Vietnam War in 1971. He was a door gunner observer on board an OH58A helicopter conducting battle damage assessment where air strikes had been made in attempt to destroy an enemy machine gun position. During its final pass over the gun emplacement, his aircraft was hit by enemy groundfire and exploded while still in flight. The helicopter then crashed and exploded a second time and burned. Because of heavy enemy activity, a ground search was not possible.
Sgt. Taylor, the brother of Christopher’s father, was listed as an MIA until the remains were identified and finally released in 1992. Chris, who was not born when his uncle died, was 12 when his grandparents, now living in Florida, were notified by the Army.
“I happened to be in Florida with my grandparents that summer when they received the call,” he said in a near hush tone. “I will never forget that time in my life for as long as I live. My grandparents were so relieved that they were now able to bury their son.”
“It was an incredible full military service that actually had three Huey helicopters that came down during the ceremony and touched down before one took off alone,” he explained. “That experience just solidified why I have committed myself to serving our country and doing what I can to recognize our veterans.”
Taylor’s father was in the Army, one brother is an active Marine, while another served in the Navy. He said he believes his sons, ages 21/2 and six months, will follow in their footsteps.
As he stood by his uncle’s display in the park, Taylor reflected, “I am so passionate about this project because of all these names here. I dare anyone to go down there and read each individual story and not get choked up. It was an eye-opening experience for me because each one of them did amazing incredible and heroic things for our country with a complete disregard for their own life and safety.”
Taylor and the entire volunteer committee are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from Islanders and others who have worked tirelessly on this project over the past five years.
“There are many memorials in this country that are funded by taxpayer dollars or government grants, but this monument will be the result of blood, sweat, tears and cash from our community members. That is pretty amazing,” he said.
For more information, visit www.degloppermemorial.org.
Chris Taylor points out his uncle’s name on the KIA monument at the south end of the memorial.