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Westfield bridge dedicated in honor of Sgt. Kevin W. White

December 21, 2016
By David Prenatt - , Westfield Republican

When you cross over the bridge on Route 20 between Oak Street and South Portage Street in Westfield, remember to thank a veteran and remember Kevin White.

Family and friends of Army Sergeant Kevin W. White, as well as several dignitaries, gathered in Eason Hall Monday afternoon to dedicate that bridge in the Westfield native's honor. A sign designating it as the "Sergeant Kevin W. White Memorial Bridge" was presented by State Senator Catharine Young and State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell.

White was killed in Afghanistan on May 2 after the vehicle he was in was struck by an improvised explosive device while he was on patrol.

Article Photos

OBSERVER?Photo by David Prenatt
State Senator Catharine Young and State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell applaud as they present the sign dedicated the bridge on Route 20 in Westfield to the White family in memory of their son and brother, Kevin. From left to right are: David, Paul, Stephen and Patricia White.

Kevin's parents, Paul and Patricia White, as well as his brothers, David and Stephen, and his maternal and paternal grandparents were present at the event. Other participants included Chautauqua County Legislator John Hemmer; Chautauqua County Veterans Services Director Gregory Carlson; Jacqueline Chiarot Phelps, regional director for Congressman Tom Reed; Susan Rowley, president of the Lake Erie New York chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America; Pastor Thayne Bodenmiller; and Westfield resident William Perrine, who originally conceived the idea of dedicating the bridge in Kevin's honor.

Young explained how Perrine had come to her and Goodell at another dedication ceremony in 2015 and suggested that the bridge be dedicated to White. They introduced the idea as legislature to the state's senate and the assembly. It was passed by both houses and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

After the colors were presented by members of the William P. Jackway VFW Post 6764, Young described how the young people of Chautauqua have always stepped up to serve our country and she offered a review of the events that led to the deployment of Kevin White to Afghanistan.

"September 11, 2001 was a generationally defining moment. Americans found themselves under attack by those who hoped to devastate our great nation. Our country refused to be unnerved by this vicious attack," Young said.

Young spoke of Operation Enduring Freedom, of which Sergeant White was a part.

"I am proud to honor a true American hero who served his country valiantly," she said. Young noted that White was deployed to Afghanistan in April, 2011 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He volunteered to command the lead vehicle on patrol on May 2, and he was hit by an I.E.D.. Truly his service was indescribable as far as what he gave in service to his country," Young said.

Goodell told White's family and all present that the dedication was more than just a sign.

"This legislature is part of the state's permanent record. From now until eternity, this honor is part of our state's history," he said. "The sign is a permanent reminder to all who cross this bridge what Kevin meant to us and to his country ... How appropriate to have a bridge on one of the busiest highways in our county to have his name on it."

White graduated from Westfield Academy in 2006 and joined the army. He deployed to Iraq in April, 2008, completing his tour of duty in June, 2009. He was reassigned to the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Schofield Barracks, in Hawaii, with the 25th Infantry Division.

White volunteered for and earned his Air Assault Badge at the Sabalauski Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In April of 2011, he was deployed to the Pech River Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Less than a month later, he was on patrol when his vehicle was hit by an IED. He died at combat outpost Honaker-Miracle, Afghanistan of wounds suffered in the attack.

The area in which White was deployed was known to be a high risk area. An article in USA Today on June 20, 2011 stated: Since deploying in late April to this small base nestled among jagged mountains, small farms and mud-brick villages, about 10 percent of the U.S. troops here have been injured by Taliban mortars, small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices.

Carlson said he did not know White personally, but he had seen firsthand the dangers of his assignment.

"I've been to the places where Kevin was. I've watched the young men leave the safe confines of their base and I've seen what they do," he said.

Carlson then read a declaration from Chautauqua County Executive Vincent Horrigan.

Prior to his death, White earned but had not yet been awarded the rank of sergeant. This designation, as well as the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, two Army Commendation Medals, the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross with two silver devices and the Hawaii Medal of Honor were awarded posthumously.

New York State Depart-ment of Transportation Regional director Francis Cirillo told the assembly, "I'm pleased that the New York State Department of Transportation can play a small role in reminding everyone of the brave and courageous service of a native son."

Phelps, speaking on behalf of Congressman Reed, thanked White's family for the gift of their son and brother. "Freedom isn't free it's priceless," she said. "Kevin's life was priceless."

The service was emotional for many who were present. Larry Freleigh, a parent who lost a son in service to our country, said, "I think it's fantastic any time we can support the young men like this. And the whole community is supporting this dedication."

Freleigh noted that veterans from all over Chautau-qua County seemed to be in attendance. "I really admire the VFW and the support they give to the families. This young man is a brother in arms and he deserves this. If my son were here, he'd say 'I died doing what I wanted to do.'"

Westfield resident William Perrine told the assembly "My wife and I live at the end of the bridge that we've been talking about." He said he comes from a military family and, after Kevin's passing, he began to think, "What can we do so he is never forgotten?"

Perrine learned Senator Young and Assemblyman Goodell were going to be in Westfield in June of 2015 and he approached them with the idea of a memorial bridge, and they took it from there. Perrine said he proposed the idea of dedicating the bridge in honor of White because it was symbolic of his sacrifice. "A bridge is a structure that insures safe passage over an obstacle from point A to point B," he said. "Point A is the present and point B is the future. Kevin White's sacrifice helps ensure safe passage for liberty from point A to point B."

Paul White said the community of Westfield had helped his family deal with the death of his son. "I remember May 3, 2011 when the doorbell rangAt that moment my family began a journey that no one wants to take," he said. "My primary purpose is to make known to all that Kevin's family truly appreciates all that has been done for them ... You have carried us through some incredibly hard times."

Pastor Thayne Boden-miller, who was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Westfield when Kevin was killed, said "Soon, it will be six years since we were together for the funeral of Kevin White." He asked the assembly to remember four things as the bridge is dedicated to Kevin: the war isn't over yet; there are other heroes; God's presence has comforted and sustained the family; and the bridge should remind us that out of the greatest tragedies, God can bring good.



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