Gene Schmidt, organizer of this afternoon’s 10th Mountain Division Jazz Band concert, shakes hand with World War II veteran Tony Drago, Oneonta, after Drago was honored with a surprise mayoral proclamation preceding this afternoon’s performance in the SUNY Alumni Field House. At 97, Drago is among the city’s oldest surviving veterans. At right, soloist Sgt. Michelle Dykes, stationed Fort Drum near Watertown, sings while accompanied by Specialist Derrick on tuba. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
by LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to AllOTSEGO.com
Gene Schmidt, the father of Neahwa Park’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, believes you shouldn’t just honor our nation’s defenders on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
“We can’t honor our veterans enough,” he said. “We owe so much of what we have to what they did for us.”
So now, Schmidt has arranged for the Army’s 10th Mountain Division Jazz Band to play a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at SUNY Oneonta’s Alumni Field House.“I wanted to have a real military band come to Oneonta,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time we had one play.”
In the ’70s, Gene’s brother-in-law, Tim DeCastro, played horns in the Air Force Band. “He was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base (in New Jersey), so he would schedule the band to play up here so he and his wife could see her family,” he said.
Schmidt reached out to several military bands, including the Air Force and Navy ones, before getting in touch with the Watertown-based 10th Mountain Division band.
The band will play patriotic marches and anthems from all the military branches. “It’s going to be a lot of different music, from World War II to today,” he said. “So everyone will be able to appreciate the songs.”
And during the concert, Schmidt will ask the veterans in the audience to stand and be recognized. “And I want to ask the people sitting next to them to shake their hands, give them a hug, and thank them for their service.”
A Vietnam veteran himself, Schmidt spearheaded a fundraising campaign to raise $6,000 for a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Neahwa Park to honor the nine Oneonta soldiers who were killed in action. The monument was dedicated Memorial Day 2016.
In 2017, he brought the “Wall that Heals” – a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. – to Neahwa Park over Memorial Day weekend.
“As often as we can, we need to honor them,” he said. “Let’s fill up the field house for our veterans.”
Vietnam ‘Wall That Heals’
Coming To Neahwa Park
ONEONTA – Two years after Gene Schmidt raised the funds and installed a monument to Oneonta high school students who died in the Vietnam War, he’s bringing the “Wall That Heals” back to Otsego County.
“Last year, Princeton had 10,000 people come to the Wall,” he said during the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting earlier tonight. “With everything we have going on Memorial Day, I’m sure that number will be eclipsed here.”
$6,000 Raised For Monument
To Oneonta’s Vietnam Fallen
ONEONTA – The necessary $6,000 has been raised for a monument in memory of the nine Oneonta soldiers killed in the Vietnam War, OHS grad Gene Schmidt of Unadilla announced today.
The plan, announced last fall, is to install and dedicate the monument this Memorial Day among the cluster of monuments at the end of Neahwa Park’s Veterans Memorial Walkway. It is being constructed by Bainbridge Monuments.
Common Council’s finance committee will review the plans later this month, and Schmidt, a Vietnam era veteran who went to high school with most of the local soldiers killed, said he hopes the full council will give the plans a final go-ahead in February.