Veterans memorial dedicated
Gulio Brovelli enlisted in the Army in July 1917, declaring that despite having immigrated to the U.S. from Italy only 11 years prior, “If it is good enough to live in, it is good enough to fight for.”
Brovelli died Oct. 8, 1918, just a month before World War I ended. On Monday, Brovelli and 27 other fallen veterans who hailed from the St. Helena area finally got their due.
As many as 500 people gathered at the St. Helena Cemetery on Monday to dedicate a new war memorial honoring 28 St. Helena veterans who died in service, from World War I to Afghanistan.
Men like Brovelli “gave everything so that nearly 100 years later, I can come home from my war,” said former Navy SEAL Ted Muhlner, the son of St. Helenans John and Jennifer Muhlner.
By remembering Brovelli and other local vets, “his name becomes more than just an inscription on a gravestone, and his face more than an image on a faraway battlefield,” Muhlner said.
Many of the veterans honored by the new memorial, which was funded by local donors and organized by St. Helena’s American Legion Post 199, are being formally honored for the first time.
Twelve of the 28 names are missing from the memorial plaque at City Hall, which also misspells the name of Lawrence L. Petersen, who served in the Army in Vietnam.
The new names were found last year on a list in the American Legion archives. Legionnaires led the drive to build the granite monument, while members of the St. Helena Historical Society researched the lives of all 28 soldiers and wrote brief biographies of each one.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who served in Vietnam, said the monument was “every bit as beautiful as we’d hoped.”
It’s important to put aside politics to honor all veterans, including “a lot of veterans who need our help today,” Thompson said.
“Whatever you might personally think of war — and like probably every other combat veteran, I know that I hate war — we must always, always honor the warriors,” Thompson said.
Mayor Del Britton, another Vietnam veteran, also urged people to remember currently enlisted service members who are fighting terrorism around the world.
Muhlner told stories about veterans who died in all five wars listed on the monument — from Paul Engeli, who met and married a woman in Australia in May 1944, just days before he was transferred to New Guinea to assist in the invasion of the Philippines, where he died six months later; to WWII submarine commander Frank Latta, Korean War machine gunner Robert Jursch, Vietnam War helicopter gunner Gary Rodrigues, and Darrik Benson, the Navy SEAL who was killed in Afghanistan last August in a helicopter crash while flying to the aid of Army Rangers who were under heavy attack.
Muhlner choked up as he told of fellow SEAL Benson.
“Darrik and each of the men on this memorial were incredible, selfless individuals whose stories should be told, be retold and celebrated,” he said.
“I know that broad smile of Paul Engeli standing on that Sydney street corner dressed in his military’s finest with his bride by his side,” Muhlner said. “I feel the saltwater spray that hits Frank Latta’s face as he shouts to his good friend on the USS Baya as they plan the following day’s attack; I am sitting in Yokohama with Bob (Jursch) and (his friend) Eugene, joking about the blundering, uncoordinated touchdown that occurred on our high school football field some years back; I am shirtless in the humid sun, covered in grease, working with Gary Rodrigues to prepare our .50-caliber machine gun for tomorrow’s mission.
“And finally, with no words spoken, Darrik Benson and I stare at each other in mutual encouragement, as we push toward completing that bitter, cold winter Hell Week ocean swim.
“I know each of these men because I choose not to forget them.”
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