When Patricia LeBas was in high school, every week she would write to her brother Michael Costello while he was serving in the Army in the Vietnam War. Almost every week he would write back.
Now, LeBas will be able to see Costello walk in the Bay Shore/Brightwaters St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is honoring 24 Purple Heart Award recipients as its grand marshals.
“I’m sure I will have tears in my eyes,” said LeBas, 59, of Bay Shore. “Just the thought of it, I started to break down at dinner. I’m just so proud of him. It’s a big day for us.”
Costello, 64, who received a Purple Heart after two occurrences left him injured -- the first, a fractured jaw, and the second time when an explosion went off and shrapnel went into his leg. The shrapnel has begun to surface in his leg.
All the honorees at the time of their service lived in Bay Shore, but not all of them being honored will be marching in the parade – some live far while others died in combat or of natural causes.
Sisters Carolyn Chessman, Pam Fitzgerald, Nancy Miller and Joan Romeo will be walking in the parade, with matching sweatshirts, in honor of their father Frank Uebelacker, who served in the Army during World War II.
Uebelacker, who died at the age of 86 in 2006 of heart failure, served in the Army from 1943 to 1945. In 1943, he was shot in the stomach. He recovered, but was never discharged. He then went back to war, where he became a prisoner of war for 18 months after being captured in Italy by the Germans.
“I couldn’t think of better grand marshals,” said Fitzgerald. “[My father] would have been absolutely thrilled.”
Bobbi Baker, who is on the parade committee, said they searched for veterans in the Bay Shore area by putting out fliers, because there’s no official list they could find. Baker said the committee verified the servicemen as Purple Heart Award recipients by having them or their family supply documentation.
“We thought it was way overdue to have done this,” Baker said. “It was just important to us to say ‘Thank you for your sacrifice.’”
The Vietnam veterans never really received the gratitude they deserved for going to war, according to John Oddo, who will be representing his brother Joseph Oddo, who served in the Army in Vietnam from 1967 to 1970.
“It was a war not a lot of people respected,” Oddo said.
Oddo, who died of heart complications when he was 40, was never the same after he came back from service, his brother said. While there, he had gotten malaria twice and was wounded in action.
“When he came home, he was kind of out of sorts,” Oddo said. “It took a while for him to get back to a normal life.”
Oddo said if a car on the block backfired, his brother would jump up and hide behind the couch in fear that someone was shooting at him.
“It’s refreshing to know that people see how many people have contributed to this effort,” Oddo said.
Veterans will finally be able to show the sacrifices they made for their country.
“There wasn’t a lot of accolades for Vietnam veterans,” said Costello, who now lives in Mastic. “It was tuck your army clothes away in the back of the closet and forget about it.”
Honored veterans will include: World War II veterans Pat Rodemeyer, Edward Ryan and Ralph Panetta; Korean War veteran Joseph Horton; Vietnam veterans Brian Mahoney, Gary Smith, Kenny Pue, Daniel King, Malcolm Holmes, Thomas Doxsee, Tyson Drake, Ronald Goetz, Austin Lance Lawther, Richard. N. DeSantis, Frank Romeo, Michael Costello, Peter G. O’Rourke; Iraq veterans Anthony Joseph Castillo and Daniel Garcia. The deceased honorees will include: Gracio Suentes, Frank Uebelacker, James Halen, Raheen Heighter and Joseph Oddo.
The parade starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at Saxon Avenue, traveling west on Main Street to St. Patrick’s Church.