Tonawanda News

March 29, 2014

Schimminger proposes TCMH name change

Staff reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Assemblyman Robin Schimminger has introduced legislation in Albany that would rename the Twin Cities Memorial Highway in honor of Vietnam veterans, his office said Friday.

Schimminger, D-Kenmore, said the original naming of the highway in 1970 coincided with a memorial to Vietnam vets at the bridge over the Erie Canal. The memorials on both sides of the canal, though, have since been moved when it became clear they were being overlooked. The City of Tonawanda’s Vietnam memorial is now behind City Hall near Niawanda Park; North Tonawanda’s is in Brauer Park, alongside the city’s World War II memorial.

With the memorials moved, Schimminger said the meaning of “memorial” in Twin Cities Memorial Highway has been lost.

That’s why a bill introduced in the Assembly would change the roadway’s formal name to the Twin Cities Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway. He said the name change is in line with tradition in the Twin Cities, where honoring Vietnam vets took place when other parts of the country let angst over the conflict spill over into harsh words for the soldiers doing the fighting.

“Back in the early 1970s, the war still raged in Vietnam and there were few if any memorials dedicated to those who served,” Schimminger said. “But the Tonawandas were an exception and moved to honor their fallen hometown heroes 31 years before the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was completed and decades before other area municipalities did so.”

In fact, when the legislation authorizing the state to build the highway was passed, it was done only days after four college students at Kent State were shot to death by the National Guard during a riot at the school that began as a Vietnam War protest.

The controversy over the war is likely what led to “Vietnam veterans” not originally being included in the highway’s proper name.

 “With the Vietnam memorials relocated, there is no indication that the Twin Cities Memorial Highway was dedicated to those who served and died in the Vietnam War,” he said. “Historical documents and newspaper accounts of the time clearly indicate that the expressway and the monuments intertwined were dedicated to the memory of those who made the greatest sacrifice in Vietnam. We can only surmise that the words ‘Vietnam Veterans’ may have been omitted from the highway’s name because of the controversial times. Vietnam was, for many Americans, an unpopular war that polarized the nation and was characterized by protests and demonstrations that often turned violent in city streets and on university campuses.”

The measure has not been put to a vote in the Assembly and the bill does not as yet have a sponsor in the state Senate.