By Kenneth Hamilton
Niagara Gazette — As the rays of the sun poured through the sparse cover of the clouds in the warm September sky above Niagara Falls, and then mingled with the sparkling tears that poured from the sobbing woman’s eyes, a small miracle happened.
Mary Ann Di Gregorio-Brannen of Scottsdale, Ariz., was in the Falls with her husband this week, Michael Brannen; where together they stood locked outside of the fenced-off memorial monument at Hyde Park, wondering how they would get in.
Sadly, they peered through the chain link fence straining to see a single one of the special names inscribed onto that dark granite sarcophagus beneath the two and one-half story stone canopy that is dedicated to those service men and women from Niagara Falls who gave their lives for the cause of freedom.
The name that they looked for her brother’s, Joseph Di Gregorio; whom she lost when she was but an eighth-grader in the nearby Gaskill Jr. High School. Mary Ann stood there behind the padlocked fence to mourn his death from so close, yet from so far.
That was April 15, 1970. Twenty-year-old PFC Joseph Di Gregorio died of mortar fire in Tay Ninh, South Vietnam, just a day short of four months from the time that he arrived in Vietnam.
As Mary Ann and her husband were getting back into their rented car to return home when a member of the Niagara Falls Veterans Memorial Commission, just happening to arrive to take pictures of the gray Wall of Honor of the name of a WWII veteran who was too ill to view it in person himself.
Talking to and feeling the hearts of the mourners, that commissioner, who requested anonymity, opened the gate for these visitors, and accompanied them safely into the monument to mourn.
“God always provides a way,” Mary Ann said, as she nodded with gratitude.
“God works in mysterious ways,” her husband chimed in.
That commissioner explained to the Brannens that the reason for the gate remaining closed was for the safety of the public.
“The ground is not yet stable enough for the footing of many of our senior citizens, and others,” he said. “They may not be wearing the proper construction footwear.”
The concrete aggregate surfaces that are necessary to safely accommodate public access cannot be poured until after the lighting is installed and the wiring conduits are buried.
Commission president Dave Fabrizio said that the commission has been working very hard to raise the money to install those lights, and to have the monument ready for public access by Veterans Day.
Fabrizio went on to say that, “So far, Sen. George Maziarz has requested the New York State Power Authority to sponsor the lighting. The authority has agreed to do so, but upon receiving the invoices indicating that the lighting has been ordered.
“Now, that’s all that we have to do is to get a good deal on the concrete,” Fabrizio said, “and the public will have safe access.”
The news of such brought a smile to the tear-stained face of Mary Ann.
Sadly, upon leaving the monument, Mary Ann’s countenance changed again. She asked when the memorial opening would take place. The Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. date and time precluded her from participating in the Niagara Falls ceremony, as she will be in Washington, DC where her brother’s name is also inscribed at a more famous black granite monument.
She will participate in a four-day ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial Wall. There she will be reading off the name of her brother and some of the names the other 58,195 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who gave their lives in service to our country.
As Mary Ann does so in Washington, other family members and friends like her will be reading other names of those 462 Niagarans that are inscribed on the mirrored monument in Niagara Falls; those who like Di Gregorio gave their lives to war.
While the family and friends of any person who honorably served in the United States Armed Forces can have their loved ones join the 918 others who have their names inscribed in the light gray walls that wing the monument, Mary Ann was happy to hear of the commission’s agreeable plans to so honor those like her brother.
In fact, it was her idea; and with it, in a sense she also opened a gate of honor.
After mourning alongside of her brother’s name, the Brannen’s departed; then passing the nearby St. Joseph’s Cemetery where her brother’s remains rest.
Mary Ann’s heart also rested that day; rested in the confidence that the contribution that her brother and others have made will not be forgotten by the citizens of Niagara Falls.
For additional information, family members and friends who are interested in participating in the reading can leave a message with their telephone numbers at 777-3995.