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Saving Private Dyster

By Lori Lane

The American Legion came to town and everyone came but Dyster.

You couldn't keep Sen. George Maziarz away from honoring vets.

The Japanese Ambassador took Dyster away from Vets on Memorial Day, 2010. It is not known if he was back in town when the American Legion was recently here.

George S. Patton would have slapped Mayor Paul Dyster, hard.

And he wouldn’t have apologized afterwards either.

You see, our heroic mayor, who always can be counted on to speak at any staged political photo op, apparently didn’t see the value of saying a few words to a bunch of war veterans who visited our fair city last week even though they were promised he would be in attendance.

Heck, two words from our brave mayor would have sufficed: “Thank you.” That’s all.

Instead, Private Dyster was AWOL when the American Legion held its 95th annual state convention downtown.

According to a Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. press release sent out two weeks ago, “More than 2,000 attendees [invaded] the downtown corridor July 17-19, and generate[d] a total economic impact of $1,152,000 for Niagara Falls.”

You’d think that, with a $1.1 million economic impact, Dyster might have taken the time to stop by and at least say thanks for that much. Never mind the wartime sacrifices so many of the vets on hand made.

Apparently, NTCC CEO John Percy thought the same thing. After all, according to his release, “Most of the convention will be held at the Conference & Events Center Niagara Falls, where Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster will open the event Thursday morning.”

Strangely, Percy didn’t bother to mention any of the other politicians invited by the Legion, like Sen. George D. Maziarz and the chairman of the Niagara County Legislature, Bill Ross, a retired army officer who once drove tanks for a living in some of the direst hours of the Cold War. Stranger still, the political leaders Percy didn’t bother mentioning in his press release are the ones who actually showed.

Perhaps, like Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan,” Ross and Maziarz came because they were searching for our confused mayor to send him home to his family, far away from the dangerous battlefield that is downtown Niagara Falls after dark. But it looks like they showed up too late to keep Dyster from stepping on a landmine.

I caught up with Ross after he spoke to the vets - mostly old-timers who have lost the spring in their step they had when they were jumping out of airplanes to defend our country - and asked him what he thought about Dyster being AWOL.

“Well, I don’t really want to go into that, except to say I’m surprised,” Ross told me. “This was a great event and I was happy to come and thank these guys and gals, and if he didn’t want to come, I’m sure he had his reasons. I’m disappointed, I guess. It would have been nice to see the mayor of this city stop and say thanks, at least for the economic development these good folks provided.”

Ross himself said the $1.1 million economic boost the Legionnaires provided to the falls was a secondary consideration, however. Ross never mentioned it in remarks he made to the assembled warriors.

“We live free in a free land under the flag of democracy,” Ross told his fellow veterans. “The American Legion is unique - it’s one of the few organizations that promotes patriotism and have that as their core mission. I want to thank you for your service when you wore our nation’s uniform and your service now - what you stand for and stood for.”

Maybe Mayor Dyster felt like the Legion was old news. After all, according to Percy, this isn’t the first time they’ve shown up in town spending their money at our businesses:

“This is a repeat visit for the group (members were last here in 2007, and previously in 2000), which includes members of the American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion,” Percy and his staff wrote. “During the three-day event, an estimated 2,000 hotel room nights at the Sheraton at the Falls, Comfort Inn ‘The Pointe,’ Quality Hotel & Suites, Holiday Inn Niagara Falls and Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel will be occupied.”

Maybe Dyster figures that Vince Anello and Irene Elia already said it and said it better than he could. Could it be that, without Chuck Schumer or Kirsten Gillibrand holding his hand at a podium, Mayor Dyster is actually a coward?

Maziarz, who also spoke last Thursday, told me that he “consider[s] it an honor to have the chance to say thank you” to the men and women who wore the uniform. And Maziarz certainly has the actions to back up his words, having secured private funding for the WNY Heroes, an organization that flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial.

Maziarz wouldn’t speculate about his AWOL counterpart’s whereabouts and was quickly whisked away by local veterans hoping for a word or two with someone who actually bothered to show up.

This was not the first time Dyster gave veterans the short shrift.

Ironically and symbolically, perhaps, on Memorial Day, 2010 Dyster appeared in the Memorial Day Parade, but when it came time to sit through the groundbreaking ceremony for the planned Veterans Memorial, the mayor suddenly had to leave. He missed the playing of the National Anthem, the 21-gun salute and the bandstand speeches of proud veterans. In short, he missed the dedication.

Although he was scheduled to speak to the veterans there, he suddenly left to meet with Ambassador Shinichi Nishimiya of Japan who decided to take in Niagara Falls.

His assistants reached out to the mayor, who had been expected to stay for the dedication ceremony. But it is not every day you can meet the ambassador of Japan. You can always hang with veterans, but there is only one ambassador to Japan.

Dyster excused himself and hurriedly left to meet Nishimiya to, according to the official website of the Consulate General's Office in New York City, speak at length with Nishimiya about railroads and trains.

The surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, resulted in 188 U.S. aircraft destroyed, 2,402 men killed and 1,282 wounded. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed it "a date which will live in infamy."

In his state of the city address on Jan. 28, 2010, Dyster said, "One of the most telling signs of a community's character is the way it treats its veterans."

Nice talk. And it is fair to say that one of the most telling signs of a mayor's character is the way he treats veterans.

I’m willing to give Dyster the benefit of the doubt. Sure, the guys in that room included some who, when they were 18 years old, stopped Hitler’s tanks in the cold snow and ice during the Battle of the Bulge. But Paul Dyster has a doctorate in international relations. That’s impressive!

I’m just not so sure General Patton would have been impressed.

On August 10, 1943, General George Patton visits an army aid station tent; while there he confronts a GI, Private Paul G. Bennett, who is crying and shaking, but who has no visible wounds. [In reality there were two separate slapping incidents, over a 10-day period. He kicked the first one, Private Charles H. Kuhl, in the butt, in addition to the slapping. The film combines and edits these into one event. The press ignored the first event, but columnist Drew Pearson talked about the second one in a radio broadcast.]:

Patton: What's the matter with you?

Bennett: I, I guess I just can't take it sir.

Patton: What did you say?

Bennett: It's my nerves sir. I, I, I just can't stand the shelling anymore. (Bennett starts sobbing more)

Patton: Your nerves? Why, hell, you are just a Goddamned coward. (Patton stands and slaps Bennett's helmet with his gloves) Shut up. I won't have a yellow bastard sitting here crying, in front of these brave men who have been wounded in battle. (Bennett continues to sob) SHUT UP! (Patton then strikes the man again, knocking his helmet liner off. He then turns to the admitting officer and yells:) Don't admit this yellow bastard. There's nothing wrong with him! I won't have sons-of-bitches who are afraid to fight stinking up this place of honor! (Turns back to Bennett:) You're going back to the front, my friend. You may get shot and you may get killed, but you're going up to the fighting. Either that or I stand you up in front of a firing squad. I (Patton grabs for his pistol) ought to shoot you myself, you Goddamned little whimpering bastard! Get him out of here! (You can see the anger in Patton/Scott's eyes; Two orderlies grab Bennett and take him out of tent.) Send him up to the front! You

hear me! You GODDAMN COWARD! (Patton tries to compose his anger, and starts walking out of the tent.) I won't have cowards in my army.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Jul 23, 2013