Every time I drive by the Stephen Steriti Ice Rink in Boston’s North End, my mind wanders back to the spring of 1965 and meeting Stephen who, smiling, motioned toward me at Bova’s Bakery, excited to tell me of his enlistment in the Army. He knew I had been recently discharged from my tour in the Marine Corps, so we chatted a few minutes. I wished him the best of luck in the usual warm greeting of two old boyhood friends.
Being recently discharged from the Marines, I was no pacifist. Slowly but surely, I joined the peace movement and eventually saw the fallacies of all wars where poor young men died for the rich old ones worldwide. Stephen was one of the toughest yet fairest kids in the North End who befriended me early on. That day at Bova’s, we shook hands and said our goodbyes as neighborhood friends do. Only one year later, he died in May of 1966 in the line of duty leading a platoon on reconnaissance as a volunteer head man in the Vietnam War.
Many years passed and then, on a visit to Washington D.C., I went looking for the newly finished Vietnam Memorial Wall, intent on finding Stephen’s name among fifty thousand names inscribed on it of those who paid the ultimate price. My heart felt heavy, saddened, and my eyes welled up when I found and read Stephen’s name. He was gone, and so I rubbed my fingers slowly over his name in solemn silence.
Today, the Stephen Steriti ice skating rink is a wonderful honor and we thank you. When I see it, I remember knowing Stephen when he was one of the toughest kids in the neighborhood. He was the lead man in that infantry platoon. Only the bravest go there, and it was purely a volunteer job because of the danger.
When I drive by that rink, I still see his beaming smile so happy he enlisted, yet I feel a void when I realize the cost of his young life for this honor. I often wonder why Stephen had to die, especially for an unpopular war, and not have a life filled with the love of his own family, children, friends and laughs. So many heroic young men must never be forgotten.