Like all communities in this great country, Amsterdam, NY has an abundance of heroes to remember and pay tribute to on this Memorial Day. I’ve written about many of them in my effort to document the personal histories of people from my hometown, including the three below. When I write about these people, I actually picture in my head the homes they lived in, the schools they attended, the neighborhoods in which they grew up. In many cases, I personally know family members and friends they grew up with. I seldom am able to get the last sentence of these stories completed without tears welling in my eyes. Their bravery, character and patriotism is awe inspiring. While I will never glorify war I will also never forget and always honor these gallant human beings.
Michael Lynch was one of them. He ran into Bert DeRose in the parking lot of a local grocery store in 1968 and told his former principal and drama club advisor that he had just enlisted. At the time, Lynch was attending SUNY New Paltz and had a student deferment. He could have done what so many of his generation chose to do and completely avoided the situation that caused his death. Instead, explaining his just-made decision to DeRose, he told his old mentor he just didn’t feel right knowing others his age were there in harms way and he was not. He became an Army medic in the 5th Infantry and was sent to Vietnam. On March 15, 1969, his mechanized unit was on patrol between Cu Chi and Tay Ninh, South Vietnam when, their convoy of Armored Patrol Carriers was ambushed by the enemy. When the two lead vehicles were hit with rocket-propelled grenades, this young hero from Amsterdam rushed to help and as he was bending down to assist a wounded soldier he was hit by small arms fire and killed.
Frank Cassetta grew up on Mathias Avenue. He enlisted in the US Army in 1951 and was sent to fight in Korea the following year. Promoted to Master Sergeant while there, on December 23, 1952 he was one of the leaders of an assault force about to attack a heavily fortified enemy hill near Sataeri, a city situated just to the northern side of the present day border between North and South Korea. As the patrol was moving up a narrow valley to position itself for the attack, one of the soldiers tripped an explosive device, alerting the North Koreans of their location. Frank’s patrol came under intense fire and was greatly outnumbered. As the American soldiers scrambled, they triggered another booby trap and with enemy grenades and small arms fire pouring down on them from both sides of the valley, their situation became bleak. Though Frank had been wounded himself, he made two, not one, two perilous trips back into the field of fire to retrieve injured comrades and bring them to safe cover. He then returned to direct friendly fire against the enemy positions and realizing that additional support was essential, he volunteered to make his way back to contact reserve forces for assistance. While attempting to do so, he was mortally wounded by enemy machine gun fire. He got a Silver Star.
So did Mike Makarowsky from Amsterdam’s Park Hill neighborhood. He was a member of Company G, Amsterdam’s hometown unit in the 105th Infantry of the 27th Division of the New York State National Guard. No Guard unit in the country faced any more danger in battle during WWII than this gallant Rug City fighting force. On June 21, 1944 Sergeant Makarowsky’s platoon had been pinned down by enemy fire while advancing through a field of sugar cane on the Island of Saipan. When one of the soldiers in his platoon was wounded and left lying in the open field of fire, Makarowsky and another of his men grabbed a stretcher from an abandoned ambulance and went and got him. They brought him back to the ambulance, which was under intense fire by the Japanese, and when Makarowsky’s efforts to start the vehicle were unsuccessful, he carried the wounded man to safety. Not too long after that rescue, Makarowsky became the first Amsterdam native to lose his life in the battle for Saipan when he was killed in a subsequent encounter with the enemy. In that encounter, Makarowsky’s commanding officer had been killed and he had taken over command of the group and was leading them “in defiance of all enemy action” when he was shot down. Three other Company G residents of Amsterdam lost their lives on Saipan. They were Sergeants Peter Sansen and Edward Golenbiewski and Private First Class Paul Sierotta. According to Tojo, the Japanese Prime Minister during WWII, losing Saipan was what lost the war for Japan. It was certainly one of the most important victories in the history of the US Military but it came at a huge cost to four families from Amsterdam, NY.