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  • Friday, October 07, 2016

    Legionnaires Honored as Living Legends

    ‘Will Never Turn My Back on Nation’s Colors’

    Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw

    Maj. Gen. Czerw

    by Robert Stronach

    UTICA — Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw (ret) presided at many funerals with flag-draped coffins.

    It was always an honor to meet the family, get some insight into the fallen soldier, and then write a eulogy, he told the Oneida County Historical Hall of Fame banquet Oct. 5. It was also an experience of gut-wrenching emotion.

    Our nation’s colors are sacred, he said. Those soldiers’ lives are a testament to that.

    “There is no time in my future where I will kneel or sit or turn my back on those colors,” he declared to rousing applause from political and business leaders, veterans and other citizens.

    Czerw, former commander of the U.S. Army Dental Corps and a member of Covey-Pashley American Legion Post 893 in Old Forge, was one of two Legionnaires being honored as a Living Legend by the Oneida County Historical Society(Maj. Gen. Czerw bio.)

    Herbert Thorpe

    Herb Thorpe

    The other was World War II Tuskegee Airman (2nd Lt.) Herbert Thorpe, a member of Harold Provost Post 1686 in Utica. Thorpe pointed to a need for a transformation in America, what with the contentious presidential campaign and racial unrest. Fortunately, the nation has “two great documents guiding us.” One is the Declaration of independence, he noted, declaring that all men are created equal; and the other is the Constitution of the United States of America, which begins with the words, “We the people.”

    “A national transformation must include all of us as equals despite outward appearances.”  (Herb Thorpe bio.)

    Veterans and Living Legends

    Provost Post 1686 Commander Ed Jackson and Vice Commander Marron McCleod congratulate Gold Star Mother Mary Wheeler and Tuskegee Airman Herbert Thorpe on their selection as Living Legends.

    Both Legionnaires received standing ovations. So did another Living Legend being honored for her work on behalf of military families and veterans – Gold Star Mother Mary Wheeler, whose son, a Marine, was killed in action in Vietnam.

    Another member of Provost Post was in the historical limelight last year when Harold McLeod, who died in 2013, was inducted into the Historical Hall of Fame. He was a former county veterans service officer and the first black Oneida County sheriff’s deputy.

    Czerw, a Utica native, now lives in San Antonio, Texas, but his home Post is in Old Forge, NY, where he and his wife, Michelle, maintain a summer home.

    Thorpe resides in the Rome area and got involved in The American Legion later in life when he was introduced to Harold Provost Post. “It’s a great organization,” he said. “I enjoy the camaraderie wherever I go. It’s as if everyone belongs to one post.”

    Two other people were honored as Living Legends – Dr. Todd Hutton, retired president of Utica College, who led a period of significant growth for the institution of higher learning; and Judy Mallozzi, director of the Whitesboro Historical Museum. Historical Society Executive Director Brian Howard and Board Chair Andy Weimer presented the awards.

    The Oneida County Historical Society also inducted five deceased people into its Historical Hall of Fame:

    — Attorney Milton Abelove who helped develop shopping centers in the area.

    — U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Cardamone, legendary for peppering his decisions with references to literature and mythology.

    — Holocaust survivor Ava Dorfman who devoted her life to helping senior citizens in the Rome area.

    Rev. Franklin Upthegrove, Utica inner city bridge builder who helped the community deal with racial tensions.

    — Civil engineering genius Canvass White who helped build the Erie Canal in the 1800s.