September 28 – Happy Birthday Michael Lynch

31713_Lynch_Michael_DOB_19482I entered Amsterdam’s Wilbur Lynch High School as a sophomore in September of 1969. Just six months before that, a graduate of that school had been killed in Vietnam. He was an Army medic in the 5th Infantry and 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. His name was Michael Lynch.

Michael Lynch had been an active member of the school’s Drama Club, serving as its President in 1966 and appearing in several of the Club’s productions during his high school years. I remember as a kid going to see Camelot in 1966 and being absolutely amazed at how professional the whole thing was. It was hard to believe you were sitting in a high school auditorium and not in some theater on Broadway. That’s how good the actors, actresses, musicians and stage crew performed. Michael Lynch played the absent-minded King Pellinore in that production and he was so good I still remember him in that role today, almost fifty years later.

Bert DeRose, the Drama Club’s advisor described Michael as being someone who acted much older than he was. He was loved and highly respected by his friends. He was always trying to do the right thing and he had this amazing sensitivity for others. For example, the only reason he went to Vietnam in the first place was because he gave the issue a lot of thought and decided he had an obligation to go and serve his country. At the time, he was in the middle of his college education at 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 in the parking lot of a local grocery store, he told his old mentor he just didn’t feel right knowing others his age were there in harms way and he was not.

By 1969, the US public’s support of America’s involvement in the war had just about dried up. To illustrate just how upside down the situation had become, that October, our high school hosted a symposium-like event that featured a local Amsterdam priest, rabbi and minister along with the GASD Superintendent and one of the district’s building principal’s who all told us students that the war was a mistake and the US should withdraw. This is while alumni from the school, many of whom had siblings sitting in the audience of that event, were still fighting in that country.

At that same time the memory of Michael Lynch was as fresh as could be and his friends wanted to honor him. So they and Mr. DeRose came up with the idea of a scholarship in his name that would go to a deserving graduating senior who was planning to attend college and pursue a career in the theater. Now they could have immediately started asking others to contribute to the scholarship fund but instead they reached into their own pockets to come up with the cash for that first year’s award. Like the friend they loved and who’s memory they were honoring, they felt it was the right thing to do.

Many of those same friends and Mr. DeRose got together again four decades later and decided it was time to make sure the memory of Michael Lynch lasted even longer. They conducted a successful campaign to get the recently renovated Wilbur Lynch auditorium renamed in Michael Lynch’s honor. He so loved that elegant Amsterdam venue.

This one-time Rugged Ram Super Sub  was also born on September 28. Though I’m certain his parents lived in Amsterdam, I’m not certain if this legendary television star with a September 28th birthday ever actually did.

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