I’m wondering what Pete Rizzo will do for his next act.
This is the guy who, over several years, co-chaired a committee with Supervisor Dan Crangle that got the Town of Tonawanda Veterans Memorial built, and successfully navigated a thicket of politics and bureaucracy and a recession and budget issues, and added follow-through to an abundance of good intentions. The Memorial was designed and the Kenney Field jet was rehabilitated by professionals who volunteered their expertise and labor. Grants and donations paid for much of the material and construction. Government agencies, particularly the Town’s Youth Parks and Recreation Department, were persuaded to help make this project extraordinary. They succeeded.
Then there was the matter of the dedication ceremony, which occurred earlier this week under blue skies and with enough wind to lift every flag on the grounds. Speeches, an orchestra, ceremonial color guards and unveiling of a sculpture, and the presence of General Colin Powell and the Patriot Guard Riders (the national organization of motorcyclists who present themselves as an honor guard, on this day surrounding the Memorial and silently holding flags). Ideas are a dime a dozen in this world, even good ones, but they require an organizer like Pete Rizzo to keep the ball rolling, to make certain every detail is attended.
Did I mention he began his involvement in this endeavor when he was 19 years old?
He and his Steering Committee pulled off something incredible, permanent and a credit to the Town of Tonawanda, and the dedication ceremony was equally remarkable (for point of full disclosure, he graciously quoted a column of mine in his welcoming speech, but I had only met him for the first time about thirty minutes prior). 600 souvenir programs were printed for the occasion; he was later informed to expect a crowd of about 1,500. Perhaps twice that number was in attendance on Tuesday afternoon.
While a cross-section of the Town showed up, veterans predominated. You could tell by the uniforms and by the baseball hats that mentioned World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, the Navy, the Marines. Like a Yankees cap, you tend to wear these things when you have an attachment with what they represent, and this was the day to wear them. Old guys, young guys, limping guys wounded by war or by life, all were there to soak in the moment, an afternoon dedicated to them and to their service. The ones in the lawn chairs they brought looked as distinguished as the ones in the section reserved for dignitaries and benefactors.
I saw a friend there, a Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Silver Star (the third-highest available military award, given for “gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States”). He did not stand out in the crowd.
It’s easy to say that veterans need these thank-you moments, but we all do. We need a moment and a monument to remind ourselves of sacrifice, shared or individual, past present or future, and the Town of Tonawanda pulled it off spectacularly on Tuesday.
I live with that underdog Buffalo attitude, the one that tells me to expect the worst and I’ll never be disappointed, the one that suggests everything in a place like Dallas is major league and thus better than anything in Buffalo and that’s why my hometown never wins the big game, but be assured: the city of Washington could not have done it better, look better or present itself with more sincerity than the events at Kenney Field this week. The Cougar jet on the corner, patched and painted every spring, now looks as good as on the day it flew away from its Long Island factory in the 1950s. The Memorial is small and beautifully executed; contrary to what I’ve come to expect, there is nothing minor league about this elegant display of appreciation to our area’s veterans.
Every speech mentioned veterans, as was to be expected; no reference to gender, race or age, and little reference to historical era. Names are being carved into tablets on the Memorial, and a local Civil War soldier is as eligible for inclusion as any other.
It was Tonawanda’s day to shine, and the event was splendid. Pete Rizzo has yet to learn, I suspect, that not every project in life has a resolution as attractive and memorable as this one, but he and the rest of the Committee are to be congratulated for their work and their success. Nicely done.
Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.
I’m wondering what Pete Rizzo will do for his next act.
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