By Karen Carr Keefe
It was a proud moment when Pfc. Charles N. DeGlopper’s 100th birthday was celebrated Nov. 30 by the Grand Island VFW post named in his honor and in memory that he died a hero in the Battle of Normandy.
About two-dozen members of Charles N. DeGlopper Memorial VFW Post 9249 gathered at their hall to toast the Medal of Honor recipient, share camaraderie, a meal and memories of the man who is not only their hero, but a hero to the town of Grand Island.
DeGlopper’s memory was burnished by a June 5, 2021, community dedication of the DeGlopper Memorial expansion that included the unveiling of a life-sized statue of the Grand Island native to much fanfare and an outpouring of love from a huge crowd. The park at the crossroads of Baseline Road and Grand Island Boulevard, first dedicated in 1962, continues to draw visitors who want to know more about the man and the other hometown veterans whose names are engraved on plaques at the site. These include 17 who were killed in action.
“I’ve driven by numerous times. I’ve seen a whole bunch of people at the square, looking at his statue,” said VFW Post Senior Vice Cmdr. Bill Snyder “It’s just amazing – you just think about the guy, 23 years old, sacrificed his life for his fellow comrades in WWII on close to one of the most important days, just a few days after D-Day.”
Pfc. Charles N. DeGlopper of Grand Island died June 9, 1944, saving the lives of his fellow members of Company C. 325th Glider Infantry at the hands of their German enemy at a bridge in LaFiere, France. He sprayed the hostile positions with assault fire and, gravely wounded, kneeled in the road and kept firing until he was killed.
The story of DeGlopper’s brave sacrifice was on the lips of all those attending the birthday observance, as well as on those of veterans in the community with close ties to him.
Snyder said the 100th birthday party was truly a special celebration of DeGlopper’s life. “He’s the namesake of the post and, obviously, you saw everything that was happening this summer with the statue going up. I think it really did bring a presence of mind for people on Grand Island on what Charlie did.”
“I can tell you – for all of us here that are VFW members, veterans, combat veterans – that something like what he did is highly impressive and something to be honored,” Snyder said. “If he were still around with us today, he’d be 100 years old. … To know that he was 23 years old when he gave up his life, is something worth remembering.”
A life-sized bronze statue of Pfc. Charles N. DeGlopper, by sculptor Susan Geissler, was unveiled June 5 at the dedication of the DeGlopper Memorial at the intersection of Baseline Road and Grand Island Boulevard. (File photo)
Island American Legion Post 1346 Cmdr. Ray DeGlopper remembers his uncle as a young man. He said that his own niece spoke at a memorial service years ago on the topic, “If Charlie had lived, what would he have done or what would he have been like.” Ray reflected on the memorial dedication to his uncle and on the milestone birthday, prior to the celebration.
“I think that what the community has done in honoring him … it’s wonderful,” he said. “I don’t think that Charlie, at the time when this happened (in 1944), was even thinking of things like that. I think he was just, ‘This is what I have to do to get this job done.’ ”
DeGlopper said he appreciated the community tribute to his uncle this summer, but had a regret. “It’s too bad it wasn’t done 50 years ago when there were more of the people around that knew him. When I say, ‘knew him,’ I mean people that went to school with him and neighbors.”
Army veteran Joe Synakowski of Grand Island reveres the hometown hero because of his sacrifice. He also has a unique connection: He ended up assigned to the same company as Charles DeGlopper had been – the 82nd Airborne Division, C Company, 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry.
Synakowski has worked since 1994 – the 50th anniversary of DeGlopper’s death – to get wider recognition for DeGlopper’s bravery and selfless sacrifice for his comrades.
“He’s a one in a million guy,” Synakowski says of DeGlopper. “He should be remembered, especially by his hometown people; and he deserves a place in history. Over the years, we have tried to honor him in many ways. The VFW, in 2004, replaced his Army gravestone with a headstone that is more worthy of his honor.” This occurred in Maplegrove Cemetery on Grand Island, where a special marker and flagpole were later installed on May 1, 2017.
Synakowski said the expansion of DeGlopper Memorial park was a “gigantic undertaking” by a committee comprised of all the Island’s veterans organizations and representatives from different community groups. Synakowski was a member of the DeGlopper Post Expansion Committee.
“We thought that the least we could do is honor Charlie in that respect for the people, not only on the Island, but also so that visitors to Niagara Falls and the area would be able to come and pay their respects,” he said.
Kathy Blake is president of the VFW Post Auxiliary and a member since 1998 of the organization that supports veterans and their families, as well as doing fundraising for community charitable causes. She also is treasurer for the Erie County VFW Auxiliary Council and has held posts at the district level, as well. Blake is proud of the man for whom the post is named.
“He was such a young man, and in one of the articles I read about him, (it was reported that) he said to his platoon guys, ‘Get out of here, I’ll cover. I’m not married, I don’t have kids.’ So they all managed to escape, because of Charlie,” she said.
She also noted a special connection for her: “My dad was a World War II vet; he was Army Air Corps. Charlie’s birthday is today and he would be 100. My dad’s birthday is Jan. 6, and he would be 100.”
She added, “The DeGlopper Memorial was really quite an achievement for Grand Island.”
Past Grand Island VFW post commander Daniel McMahon said at the 100th birthday celebration that DeGlopper “gave his life so members of his crew, who were mostly married people, could get out to get to freedom. He defended the bridge, so he succumbed to his injuries.”
McMahon – a 2019 inductee of the New York State Veterans’ Hall of Fame, and a state VFW quartermaster – noted there is recognition of DeGlopper’s courage well beyond Grand Island. He said DeGlopper is very well respected at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the 82nd Airborne. An airfield, a training facility, a street and a room in the dining facility have all been named after DeGlopper.
He also pointed out that there is a memorial dedicated to DeGlopper in LaFiere, Normandy, France, near where he died. In 2010, the 66th anniversary of D-Day, members of the DeGlopper family traveled to the site, where a wreath was laid at the memorial.
“If somebody goes there and says they’re from Grand Island, they are treated with high respect,” McMahon said.