Michael A Arciola
Elmsford, New York
February 15, 2005
Died in Al Ramadi, Iraq, from injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire.
|Greenburgh man builds memorial to veteran son
By SHAWN COHEN
THE JOURNAL NEWS
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Nyack veteran remembers WWII
Original publication: November 11, 2005
GREENBURGH — Robert Arciola is virtually blind and has lost one leg to diabetes, so he has found it nearly impossible to visit his son's grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Listen as Robert Arciola explains the tribute to his son, with images by Journal News staff photographer Matthew Brown.
His solution: build his own backyard memorial, a granite monument and flag display paying tribute to his son and all other Westchester service members who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.
The 53-year-old town resident, whose son, Michael, was killed by sniper fire in February in Iraq, now is finished with the project and has invited a host of dignitaries and relatives of fallen soldiers to his home for the official unveiling today, Veterans Day.
"You know the saying, 'if you build it, they will come?' " he said, in reference to the movie "Field of Dreams." "I felt if I built this monument for all of our sons, their souls would come here."
He calls it the Freedom Stone. The 4-foot-tall granite marker, surrounded by flowers and standing beside a flagpole, lists the names of his son and other Westchester soldiers who died in action.
After months of hard work, everyone from the Elmsford mayor to Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, is expected to come to Arciola's backyard at 28 Rumbrook Road to remember the young men who sacrificed their lives fighting overseas in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
For Robert Arciola, this began with a personal struggle.
Last winter, he was left devastated, physically and emotionally, by diabetes. Doctors amputated his left leg.
His son, Michael, came to visit him at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow; a photograph of the son smiling at his father's bedside now takes a treasured place in Arciola's living room.
It was days after the photo was taken that Pfc. Michael Anthony Arciola — a 20-year-old former high school baseball star — was sent to Iraq. A few weeks later, on Feb. 15, the Army machine-gunner was shot dead.
Arciola, a former painting contractor who is disabled and lives with his elderly mother, had to be driven to the funeral in Arlington by a friend.
While he was proud to see his son take his place among heroes of past wars, he hasn't returned. The trip is just too burdensome.
Still, he has found other ways to keep his son's memory alive. Pictures of his son, from childhood through graduation and into the armed forces, adorn walls and tables in his house.
He also wears his son's white Nikes and every day sits down at his Casio keyboard to play "My Girl," The Temptations hit that was his son's favorite song. He thinks back to the times he'd play this and other Motown classics during family road trips.
"I want to talk to my son and visit my son, and I need a place to go," he said of his backyard memorial. "My son Michael was my hero. He's a patriot, and he belongs in Arlington, buried with the greatest in this country. But I know his spirit will be here. I had a dream right after he died, and he said he would never leave me."
But he didn't do it just for his son. The stone lists four other Westchester service members who died — Bernard Gooden Jr., Anthony Lagman, Kevin Cuming and David Ayala. He also will add the names of other local soldiers who died since the monument's brass plates were cast.
"I figured everyone's in the same boat I'm in, with their sons buried far away," he said. "Their pain is my pain. I feel like I'm bringing them home to the county where they grew up."
The flag flying from the pole was donated by a friend over the summer, and the granite slab was placed earlier this week. Arciola has paid more than $4,000 for the project.
"I feel as though my son's home again," he said, walking beside the monument with the aid of a cane Wednesday. "Now I could come outside and say 'Hey, Mike, how you doing today? How you doing, fellows?"
Some in Arciola's family won't attend the ceremony; his ex-wife is going to Arlington for a service. And a few residents privately question the backyard tribute, considering it sad and strange.
But many others say they will support Arciola in his grief.
"This is a healing process for him," said Elmsford Mayor Robert Williams, today's master of ceremonies. "People want to be there to support him and the family."
Arciola said today's dedication at 2 p.m. is just the beginning. He's inviting the public to come anytime, and he is installing lights so people can visit at night.
He's hoping it will remind people of the sacrifices service members are making in the "War on Terror."
While he supports the war in Iraq, he said the monument is not about politics. "It's about the loss of our children," he said. "It's something you really can't explain until it happens to you."
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