A Hilltown friendship didn’t end with a death in Vietnam

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By Melissa Hale-Spencer ALTAMONT — Ed Ackroyd is looking for names to put on a plaque that he hopes will never be filled. The solid walnut rectangle is to honor local veterans killed in action. It has space for 34 names; six are filled. The first space belongs to Boyd C. Hilton, an Altamont native who served in the Navy during World War II and went down with his ship on Oct. 6, 1943. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Altamont is named for him. That is where the plaque hangs. It was unveiled on Loyalty Day this May by Marge Gilbert and her daughter, Patty Wagoner. Over the decades, Mrs. Gilbert, dressed in crisp white, right to her gloved fingertips, has been a familiar sight as a Gold Star Mother, riding in parades or placing Memorial Day wreaths. Her only son, Glenn R. Gilbert, died in Vietnam on Aug. 4, 1970. A picture of Gilbert — a young man in uniform — is at the center of the Glenn R. Gilbert Memorial plaque. He was Ackroyd’s inspiration. The two of them grew up in the Hilltowns and went to Berne- Knox-Westerlo High School together. Gilbert worked hard on his father’s dairy farm. Later, he worked for Ackroyd’s father as a bartender at the Wayside Inn on Thompsons Lake Road. Ackroyd remembers the last time he saw his friend. Both of them were home on leave — Ackroyd from Germany and Gilbert from Fort Dix. “We said we lucked out; we’re not going,” recalled Ackroyd with a wry smile. “Then I got orders for Vietnam. The next thing I heard about Glenn was from my father.” Ackroyd’s father wrote an emotional letter to Ed in Vietnam, telling him his friend was missing in action. It was August 1970. Ackroyd was 19 and Gilbert a year or two older. Ackroyd made it a point to find out what had happened to his friend. He learned that on Aug. 4, Gilbert was retrieving supplies that were dropped from a river, and he drowned. Other of Ackroyd’s friends had died in Vietnam, too. “It’s not easy,” he said. “It’s a fact of war.” He went on, “There was a saying in Vietnam: You got wasted…. If someone got killed, you said, ‘He got wasted. It don’t matter.’ You shook your head. Another one wasted. There was nothing you could do. You had to move on.” Ackroyd came home and joined the VFW Post in Altamont. He’s retired now from running his own business selling industrial batteries and power back-up systems. Now, as a father of four children, he said, his heart goes out to Marge Gilbert and her family as he can’t imagine first being told of a child missing in action and then, a few weeks later, being informed of his death. He decided there was something he cold do. At a VFW meeting early this year, Ackroyd thought of his old friend as he looked at the plaque on the wall, naming deceased members of the post. He figured Gilbert, had he come home, would have joined the post so Ackroyd asked that Gilbert’s name be put on the plaque. He was told to check with the state VFW headquarters, which referred him to the national office. “I was told, since he can’t sign the back of the membership card, he can’t be a member,” said Ackroyd. “I told them, ‘Even when you die, you have bureaucracy.’” The Altamont post decided to make a plaque as a memorial to Gilbert to honor local veterans who were killed in action. Anyone who knows of such a veteran from the Hilltowns, Guilderland, or New Scotland is encouraged to call Ackroyd at the post at 861-8323. So far, there are four other names besides Gilbert and Hilton. Private First Class Swint from Berne, the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Swint, was killed in action in Belgium on Oct. 26, 1944. Kenneth Echer, the son of Mrs. Raymond Cross, was a Marine who died from wounds in the Battle of Iwo Jima on April 2, 1945. Richard John Mosley was a medic who was killed in Vietnam on Jan. 27, 1967 as he ran to help two wounded soldiers. Sergeant Fred T. Osbonlighter has just been added to the plaque. Ackroyd found out about him when he attended the “I Remember Altamont During World War II” event recently hosted by Cindy Pollard. He then found Osbonlighter’s grave at Fairview Cemetery in Altamont and learned he had died on April 29, 1945 in Okinawa. He was the son of Raymond and Emma Osbonlighter. “We tried to check across the country and haven’t heard of anything like it,” said Ackroyd of the plaque. He hopes the idea will catch on and other posts will do it, too. He remembers returning from Vietnam and being discharged in San Francisco at age 20, after serving three years. Because of protests over the war, he recalled, “People just ripped off their uniforms and put on civilian clothes. I kept mine on.” But, when he got home, he said, “I did what most Vietnam vets did — hid. You didn’t admit you were in Vietnam.” Ackroyd thinks that why veterans of recent wars are getting more recognition. “Society has a little bit of guilt,” he said. “Does it cure everything? No, not really.” “This is an ongoing thing,” Ackroyd said of adding names to the plaque. He believes it gives the family and friends of the dead veterans a measure of comfort. When Ackroyd went to Washington, D.C. to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, listing the names of those who died in Vietnam, he told Marge Gilbert that he would converse with Glenn and his other friends. “Now they can come in to the post and see the plaque,” he said of family members. “And I can sit back and have a beer with Glenn.” Honoring the fallen A Hilltown friendship didn’t end with a death in Vietnam The Enterprise — Tyler Murphy Determination: Ed Ackroyd, a Vietnam War veteran, was determined to honor his friend, Glenn Gilbert, who died in Vietnam. Since the Veterans of Foreign Wars only allows names of members to be listed as deceased VFW members, Ackroyd spearheaded the drive to have a plaque hung at Altamont’s VFW Post, honoring veterans, like Gilbert, who were killed in action. He’d like to see the tradition started in other posts across the country. The Enterprise — Tyler Murphy The names live on: Local veterans who were killed in action are named on this plaque that now hangs in Altamont’s Veterans of foreign Wars Post. “Now they can come in to the post and see the plaque,” Ed Ackroyd said of family members. “And I can sit back and have a beer with Glenn

Altamont Enterprise – Thursday, July 19. 2012