Monument honors Medal of Honor recipient
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The rediscovery of a Long Island hero came by accident, a year and a half ago.
Bethpage Fire Chief James Baudille, responding to a medical call at a local home, noticed a Medal of Honor hanging on a living room wall.
The medal -- the military's highest award -- honors Catherine and Ed Karopczyc's oldest son, who died saving fellow soldiers 46 years ago during the height of the Vietnam War.
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"I was just awestruck," Baudille recalled. "I was explaining to a lot of the younger men whose house we were in . . . And to us, this was sacred ground."
Thanks to the efforts of the fire chief and others, 100 people gathered Saturday afternoon for the dedication of a black granite memorial for Army 1st Lt. Stephen Karopczyc, who grew up in Bethpage and graduated in 1961 from Chaminade High School. The marker is located next to the community's Sept. 11 memorial on Stewart Avenue near the train station.
Karopczyc's parents, his brother Walter and other family members sat in the front row for the hourlong event.
Ed Karopczyc said it wasn't a sad occasion. "It is a pleasant one, because they are remembering our son who we have never forgotten," he said.
Many spoke during the dedication, including Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.
"Forever we will remember and honor this brave soldier . . . who gave his life in order to protect our freedoms," he said.
On March 12, 1967, Stephen Karopczyc, 23, was leading his platoon, when he saw other American soldiers engaged in combat. He dashed through intense enemy fire and hurled colored-smoke grenades so American helicopters could attack the enemy, according to the medal's citation.
During the attack, he was shot above the heart, but he refused aid, plugging the wound with his finger until it could be properly dressed.
Hours later, a hand grenade was thrown within feet of him and two other wounded men. Karopczyc jumped up to cover the grenade with a steel helmet. The explosion sent fragments into his legs, but spared the other men. Karopczyc died later that day, the citation said.
Army Col. Glenn A. Waters, a Bethpage native, read the document aloud. After he finished, he said, "I ask when you pass by this monument and others like it, you think about the amazing Americans that lay down their life or give parts of their body to defend our way of life."