Operation Neptune was the massive military assault portion of the Allied invasion of Normandy, code named Operation Overlord that occurred on June 6, 1944. Hopefully never again will there be such a terrible day. It took hundreds of thousands of men, on tens of thousands of ships and planes, to unseat the Nazis from power. And one of those men was Charles DeGlopper of Grand Island, NY, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.
As I understand it, DeGlopper’s unit was ordered to take the “La Fière Bridge” on the Merderet River. I googled both places. They look very pretty, like some upstate New York farm country. It’s not a very big bridge or a very big river. But a great act of bravery occurred there. Imagine Charles, likely already cold and exhausted having fallen from the sky, wading across the brown water, coming under fire, and then returning fire as he motioned for his fellow soldiers to move to safety. DeGlopper was shot. Even while bleeding he continued to return fire until he finally passed.
We will properly honor this hero and all those who have served
For this selfless act, DeGlopper was awarded the Medal of Honor, which is the United States of America's highest and most prestigious personal military decoration awarded for acts of valor. He is honored with a memorial in France, but also here in his hometown at the center of Grand Island Boulevard. And now, as you know, there is an effort to revitalize the DeGlopper memorial here on Grand Island.
This last week giant stones (resembling the rock face at Normandy) went into place. Each weigh well over one thousand pounds. Soon trees will be planted. Eventually, a statue of DeGlopper will rise up beside an eternal flame. When it’s all done, it will not only honor Charles DeGlopper, his family, and the other families who lost loved ones in battle serving our country, but also create the beautiful heart of our Town Center.
“DD” is leading the way
Dan “DD” Drexilius, who is running for Highway Superintendent, is spearheading the construction. And much of the design of the new memorial is his vision. But don’t think this is some election move by Dan. He has been part of several projects like this on Grand Island. Notably, it was his know-how and stick-to-it attitude that completed the Miracle League diamond at Veteran’s Park. I was recently at a meeting for the leadership of the Miracle League and two founding members of the group explained with teary eyes all that Dan had done.
I respect Dan. He was one of my early supporters. He gave me advice and sat down with me for a long chat one day at the Town Café. I won’t forget that. I was proud to appoint him to the Zoning Board of Appeals last year. I know what he can do when he sets his mind to it, and he will help complete this project. But he needs your help. The DeGlopper family needs your help. The Island needs your help.
Although there have been several major steps to complete the memorial (including the 1-million-dollar sidewalk grant that we can hopefully use to make that space more accessible) the statue can’t be completed without several hundred thousand dollars. I know that sounds like an insurmountable goal, and frankly it can’t be done without corporate sponsors. But you can definitely help. Each of us can buy a stone for the walkway that will feature your family name. And vets can purchase stones for the wall. Go to www.degloppermemorial.org for more information.
Together, we can ensure a proper tribute
We need you involved because this is something that will last forever. The greatest War Memorials in America help us reflect on what we lost and why the sacrifice was necessary more than celebrate the glory of combat. The Vietnam Memorial is probably the most imitated of all war memorials, because it does this so well. It was created by an Asian-American woman. And believe it or not, when she proposed the idea and the design, it caused much angst and debate. Opponents called the monument a “black scar” that disgraced those who died in the war. But the solemn nature of that monument endures, because it challenges us to remember the sacrifice and why it matters.
In this age when Medal of Honor to most young people is just the name of a video game, I hope we can create something on Grand Island that is a solemn place of honor first and foremost. We are not the Soviet Union, where I have seen decaying tributes to warfare—great tanks and epic murals. I was not moved.
I’m far more impressed by memorials like the one in beautiful Portland, Maine. It’s a 14-foot statue modeled after Minerva, the goddess of both wisdom and war. The figure is holding a sword wrapped in a flag in her right hand and a shield and a branch of maple leaves in her left hand. Below her is the inscription, “Portland, to her sons who died for the Union.” When you see it, you must stop and admire it. You can’t look away. It holds you as you contemplate the great sacrifice of those who died to unify our country and the symbolic goddess of war who honors their sacrifice eternally.
This memorial will feature a statue of Charles
The center piece of this memorial will be special: a statue of Charles. There has been some debate about what form he will take, but it will eventually be turned over to an artist. The current plan is to create life-like version of the handsome DeGlopper with his rifle—the defining moment of his act of valor. Reportedly, he was six-foot-eight inches tall (as tall as Lebron James). Regardless of his frame, Charles DeGlopper was a good man; a beautiful son of our beautiful Isle. There is a famous photo of him standing next to his friend where he is at least a head taller than him. He’s as thin as a rail, looking happy, in his uniform. But what strikes me about that photo (you can Google that too) is not his height. It’s his smile—and his youth.
As I write this I have Ray DeGlopper (his nephew) standing next to me. I just asked him, “What was Charles like?” Ray replied, “I don’t know. I was four when died. He was definitely tall, I remember seeing him ducking through the door when he walked in our old farm house. But what I really remember is what it did to my grandfather. He never forgot him . . . missed him every day.”
Let’s not forget him either—www.degloppermemorial.org