By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The local Vietnam Veterans chapter now has more room to showcase its hundreds of historical mementos from the war in their new museum and office located at 47 Main Street, just feet away from its old location.
The lease at the new spot, previously an antique store, begin in November. The group spent the month repairing hundreds of holes in the walls at the new place, painting and moving materials into the building.
Luckily, the landlord at the old location, where they were for eight years, allowed the chapter to break its lease just months into the two-year agreement.
And Pietrowski, who is originally from Tonawanda, is quite happy with the new location and the increase in square footage — from 1,500 to 1,900.
“Before, that place looked like a warehouse,” he said. “The stuff was piled all over, we had no wall space left ... and couldn’t display a lot of our items.”
Now, pictures from the war are proudly hung on the walls, the many books are visible and exhibits with old uniforms, sandbags and other memorabilia are displayed.
Pietrowski is also planning to expand the sandbag bunker he built in the front of the museum — which pays homage to the soldiers’ use of the sandbags as protective barriers during the war.
He also plans on adding more decorative features around the photographs in the museum, which document aspects of the war and honor local soldiers, including Mayor Ron Pilozzi.
A portion of the wall is also dedicated to City of Tonawanda residents who lost their lives in the war.
“We were close to them all,” Dennis Smilinich, a member of the organization who graduated high school with Pietrowski, said. “Now, we try to help the young guys who come back.”
The organization, which donates thousands of dollars to charities and to students through scholarships, originally had its headquarters in Buffalo. But ten years ago, the group made the decision to move to Tonawanda, and as a result, their membership has spiked — going from 150 to 580, and, according to Smilinich, is now the largest chapter in New York state.
“Being on the storefront has really helped ... people see us and just walk in,” Pietrowski said.
The chapter is hosting an open house Saturday at the new location from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The open house will give city residents a chance to meet people from the group, look at the museum artifacts and get some refreshments.
The organization will also present a national award, the Vietnam Veterans of America Achievement Medal, to one of its members, Paul Rudnicki, for his dedication to the group’s large food pantry for veterans, located in the basement of their new location.
The organization receives some donations, but they purchase most of the food themselves. Rudnicki, along with his group Valor, fundraises almost $15,000 per year for the pantry.
Every week, about five to 10 veterans or their families are able to get food from the pantry.If you go: WHAT: Vietnam Veterans Chapter 77 Open House WHEN: Saturday, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. WHERE: 47 Main St. Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150