At a brief ceremony on Sunday in front of the Rockland County Courthouse, the names of the four soldiers from Rockland killed in the Iraq War were added to the Rockland County War Memorial.
The four men killed while in Iraq were Army Cpl. Manny Lopez, of Haverstraw, who died in 2005, Capt. Phillip Esposito, of Suffern, who died in June 2005, Marine Cpl. Steven Vahaviolos, of Airmont, who died in May 2006, and Army Spc. Justin Garcia, of Valley Cottage, who died in November 2006.
“They gave their todays so we could have tomorrow,” said Jerry Donnellan, director of Rockland County Veterans Services.” It’s kind of strange that we have turned Memorial Day into the day that begins the summer when those who gave us that opportunity, those we remember on Memorial Day, never saw the full bloom of their spring.”
Family and friends of the four men came out on Sunday to honor the soldiers.
“It means a lot, and I’m glad that some people made the effort to come out and honor my son and the others,” said Gus Vahaviolos, father of Steven Vahaviolos. “Unfortunately, we do miss him a lot and every day we miss him even more. It doesn’t get easier, that’s for sure.”
Michelle Garcia, wife of Justin Garcia, said she felt honored that so many people came out to remember her husband.
“It’s overwhelming when you see so many people come together like that,” she said.
She was there with her and Justin’s son, Vinny Garcia, 5. The two of them, along with Vicky and Gus Vahaviolos and Yolana Lopez, Manuel Lopez’s mother, stood on the courthouse steps and walked to the monument to place flowers in front of it.
“It just brought back all of these memories I have of him,” Michelle Garcia said of putting the flowers in front of the monument. “The hurt never stops, it never gets easier, but it was nice to remember some positive memories about him.”
Yolana Lopez said she knew her son was watching down over everyone during the ceremony and that she had a feeling of “look down, boy, they’re going to remember you forever.” She added that she was pleased with how many people came out to remember, and grateful that the county added the names of the four soldiers to the memorial.
Lopez said it was even more special to share the day with the families for the other soldiers, as they’ve grown close in the past few years. She said they speak online and on the phone, and try to get together regularly.
“We have a bond,” Lopez said. “Some of the mothers get together and we have dinner at least every other month. We laugh, we drink wine, we get silly, we cry.”