Did "political correctness" kill funding for WWII memorial park?

Posted at 7:28 PM, Apr 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-26 19:40:37-04

The Niagara River Greenway Commission voted last year in support of a Grand Island request for NYS money to help develop the DeGlopper Memorial Park near the intersection of Baseline Road and Grand Island Boulevard.

The money would be coming from the New York Power Authority re-licensing agreement.

However, when the request went to the standing committee (Bufffalo & Erie County Greenway Fund Standing Committee) in charge of allocating the money, it was completely turned down.

"For us to hear that we did not get one dollar, is a huge disappointment," said Grand Island Supervisor Nathan McMurray.

The money was being sought to help expand the DeGlopper Memorial Park to include flags, monuments to soldiers from Grand Island who served and died in all wars, new green space, and a special statue commemorating PFC Charles N. DeGlopper.

Charles DeGlopper received the Medal of Honor posthumously after he sacrificed his life to fight off units of the German Army so DeGlopper's fellow soldiers in the 82nd Airborne could escape during the D-Day invasion of World War II.  DeGlopper died on June 9, 1944 and is honored with a monument in France.

"Charles DeGlopper is honored all over the world.  He is honored in France.  He is honored at military bases but he is not properly honored right here in his hometown," added McMurray.

Some are now wondering if "political correctness" helped kill funding for the memorial park because the proposed DeGlopper statue would depict the soldier in a firing position using his Browning rifle.

"Upset is a very good word and bordering on anger," said U.S. Air Force veteran Bruce Wojick, and a member of the Charles N. DeGlopper VFW post on Grand Island.

Several other veterans we talked with also expressed concerns that money may have been withheld because of the statue having a gun.

Those suspicions started after a November 2017 letter was written to the Buffalo News by Larry Beahan, Conservation Chairman for the Sierra Club Niagara Group.   Beahan expressed concerns about the proposed statue, saying he would prefer a plague and "not with a statue advertisement for Browning, Colt, and Ruger."

"That was a very terrible thing to say.  This was a young man who used that gun, a Browning, to save lives," said Nathan McMurray.

7 Eyewitness News also looked at minutes from a November 7, 2017 meeting of the Niagara Relicensing Environmental Coalition (NREC) that showed an "effervescent discussion took place concerning the DeGlopper Memorial."  Those minutes indicate some members had "concerns about the symbolism of the statuary and if it was appropriate considering recent societal events."

Supervisor McMurray said he has been unable to get a specific reason why Grand Island's request was denied.  McMurray said if it turns out the gun issue was the reason, he will enlist help from local veterans when he reapplies for the funding.

Over the past three years, hundreds of volunteers have dedicated themselves to working on the DeGlopper Memorial project that was helped with an estimated $1 million of donated goods and services.  Without the state money, the project has been set back at least two years as organizers try to raise $450,000 to complete it.

7 Eyewitness News attempted to get answers as to why the funding was denied and received the following statement from the standing committee in charge of allocating the money:

“The Buffalo and Erie County Greenway Fund Standing Committee announced seven new awards totaling approximately $2 million for beautification and improvement projects along the Buffalo and Erie County Greenway.  Every one of the selected projects will bring a new opportunity for the public to access the waterfront, enjoy a trail or park facility, or better appreciate our local history or natural resources,” said Chairman Alan J. Bozer, a trustee of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and a partner at Phillips Lytle LLP. “This funding benefits the entire Western New York region by supporting community efforts that call attention to the region’s many assets.”  There were many worthwhile applications this year. The Standing Committee made some difficult decisions, and unfortunately, not all applicants were awarded.”

7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly has more in his report.