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Archbishop Walsh Dedicates Military Wall of Honor

Thu, Nov 16th 2017 11:00 am

By CHRISTIAN GRAVIUS 

OLEAN, NY —  In 1967, three high school seniors walked the Halls of Archbishop Walsh Academy. Admired by their peers, Ralph Bigelow, Thomas Drum and Ivan Febo-Betancourt all made the decision to join the U.S. Army after graduation.

Fifty years later, these names once again linger the halls of Walsh — but for a different reason.

On Thursday, the school hosted a ceremony dedicating its new Military Wall of Fame in honor of all Walsh graduates who have served in the military, with special recognition to Bigelow, Drum and Febo-Betancourt, who all lost their lives defending their country's freedom while serving in the Vietnam War.

The Military Wall of Honor shares a wall with Walsh's St. Sebastian Chapel, which is named after the patron saint of athletes and soldiers. 

In front of the chapel doors, a crowd of 30 or so lined the narrow hallway in chairs pushed up against lockers. To begin the ceremony, members of the Seneca Battalion ROTC at St. Bonaventure University presented the colors and Walsh senior Tioga Simpson sang the national anthem.

As soon as Simpson finished her rendition of the anthem, a teary-eyed Joann McAndrew took to the podium.

"They should have picked somebody else to speak. As you can all see, I'm already crying," McAndrew, a member of Walsh's Military Honors Committee who had played a pivotal role in the dedication of the wall and Thursday's ceremony, said.

McAndrew, who also serves on the Walsh board of trustees, addressed the crowd and made note the significance of the day's ceremony. From there, she invited classmates of the three men honored to come up and unveil the wall.

On the count of three, the group of men, all representing Walsh's class of 1967, pulled the green sheet from the Velcro holding it to the wall and presented the newly dedicated Military Wall of Honor.

Sitting about eye level on the wall, plaques for all five branches of the military as well as plaques holding the names of Bigelow, Drum and Febo-Betancourt will now be on display permanently for students and visitors to see.  

"This wall serves as a reminder for the future generations that walk these halls that freedom isn't free," State Sen. Catharine Young, whose district includes the Greater Olean area, said. "When our soldiers returned from Vietnam, many of them were not treated the way they deserved to be. It's our job to make sure these people and their families know that they are loved."

Following Young's remarks, the floor was open for classmates of the three men honored to speak. John Shine spoke of the men's characters.

"These were good guys," said Shine.

"Unique," "gentle" and "kind" were some of the reoccurring words Shine used to describe his classmates.

Next, Walsh's canonical administrator, the Rev. David Tourville, led the crowd in prayer and blessed the wall with holy water.

Following the formal blessing, the crowd was led outside to the school's flagpole where Walsh's student body had gathered. Walsh's Director of Spiritual Life and Religious Education Mary Lou Plesac played guitar and led the grouping in the singing of "God Bless America."

Tourville led the group in prayer before local Boy Scouts presented and folded an American flag.

To end the day's ceremony the Allegany American Legion Charles Harbel Post 892 presented a 21-gun salute, and Walsh's performing arts teacher, Alex Peterson, played Taps.

After the ceremony, McAndrew recalled that members of the class of 1967 presented the idea for the Military Wall of Fame at a reunion and the project got underway after the plan was presented to the board of education, 

"I knew we had to finish what we started,"  she said. "From now on, any Walsh alum who dies in service will have a plaque of their own, and any alum who is a veteran of one of the five branches of military will get their name on their respective plaque." 

While Veterans Day has been recognized as a national holiday since 1938, 2017 marks the first year Ralph Bigelow, Thomas Drum and Ivan Febo-Betancourt will be recognized in the halls of Archbishop Walsh Academy for making the ultimate sacrifice.

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