MALTA — A Vietnam War Marines veteran who embodied toughness by battling with a bandaged gunshot wound in his arm took center stage Sunday.
Two-time Purple Heart recipient U.S. Marine Corps Capt. David Wallingford received the state’s highest honor for service and valor, and Malta Veterans Memorial Park was renamed in his honor.
State Sen. Jim Tedisco (R,C-Glenville) told dozens of attendees during the scorching 90-plus-degree day that hardly anything passes unanimously in the New York State Senate.
But Wallingford’s New York State Liberty Medal passed with consensus:
“So you are a special person,” Tedisco said.
In addition, the Malta Veterans Appreciation Program and the town of Malta dedicated the venue “Capt. USMC David T. Wallingford Veteran’s Park.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko said it was especially important to pay homage to Vietnam veterans such as Wallingford.
“Many were not greeted with a hero’s welcome, in that era of history,” Tonko said of Wallingford’s Marines service from 1967 to 1970.
He had already won multiple other accolades, including the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” designation, the Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat “V,” Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, National Defense Medal, Vietnamese Service Medal with Four Stars, Vietnamese Campaign Medal, Vietnamese Armed Forces Meritorious Unit Commendation Cross Gallantry Medal with Palm, New York State Conspicuous Service Cross with One Device, and the New York State Conspicuous Service Star.
Wallingford got up from his wheelchair and took to the microphone briefly to thank the dignitaries, his family, friends and civilians for coming out.
His wife Helene, a naval lieutenant who Wallingford met at a hospital in Japan while he was rehabbing, sat next to him.
Sen. Daphne Jordan (R, C, I-Halfmoon) said Malta is not in her 43rd district, but she spoke at length about Wallingford, saying she couldn’t miss the opportunity to honor her good friend who’s done so much for veterans and to serve his community, his state and nation.
Wallingford was shot in his left arm during Operation Purple Martin in northwest Quảng Trị Province in March 1969, Jordan said. While his wound was bandaged with two field dressings, Wallingford kept shooting at the enemy before being hit in the leg by shrapnel from a grenade that lodged in his skin, Jordan said.
“Think about the courage, the willpower, the dedication and the sheer grit,” Jordan said. “Shot and in shock, yet he kept fighting. That’s the proud spirit of our armed forces — the spirit of the Purple Heart, front and center.”
After Wallingford was honorably discharged in 1970, he went on to serve fellow veterans at the State Division of Veterans Affairs as a special assistant.
He also served on Friends of the New York State Military Museum, the town of Malta’s Veterans Committee, and as commander of Chapter 446 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
The American Red Cross named Wallingford its military hero of the year in 2017 for his work with veterans as a volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and Stratton VA Medical Center, and as executive director of the Marine Corps Coordinating Council, helping Marines with financial needs and scholarships at local colleges.
Most recently, Jordan said, Wallingford has been “an incredible partner” in the legislator’s efforts to establish Purple Heart communities.
Purple Heart is the oldest and among the most venerated military decorations awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military.
Jordan said she met Wallingford in 2019, when, as commander of Chapter 446 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, he shared his vision to designate Purple Heart communities, to affirm a community’s respect and recognition of the proud patriots.
Jordan said 50 of the 60 municipalities in her district have since become Purple Heart communities, while Saratoga, Rensselaer, Washington and Columbia counties all passed local resolutions becoming Purple Heart communities and counties.
At present, 40 of the 62 counties in New York State have become Purple Heart communities, she added, and Jordan said her Senate bill to designate New York as a Purple Heart state passed the Senate last week.
Jordan said she’s imploring Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to bring a companion bill to the floor for a vote so that New York State can become a Purple Heart state.
“It’s our privilege, frankly, it’s our duty to recognize and honor them,” Jordan said.
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner said there is probably no one she knows who embodies the value of faithfulness than Wallingford.
Woerner said she served with Wallingford on the Malta Planning Board, which she playfully suggested was “a battlefield in and of itself, although not perhaps one that takes as much courage, as it does to enter the battlefield in a time of war.”
While working with Wallingford, Woerner said, she observed “the consistency and the thoroughness and the thoughtfulness that he brings to his work as a town volunteer.” She said he “provides gentle coaching and counseling,” when needed.
To honor those that have served the country, the town built a Veteran’s Memorial at the entrance of the Town Hall to include a piece of the 9/11 steel from the Twin Towers.
It has since expanded the site to include a memorial brick walkway with benches and a planned fountain for veterans, service members and their families to enjoy.
Installation of the bricks and the work was done by volunteers.
Local Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers BAC2, Ironworkers Local 12, Local Smart 83, CTI, Monahan Metals, Allerdice, Bonded Concrete, Stumps by Steve, DB Unlimited Tree service, Malta Highway and Parks, Duke Concrete and others contributed.
The entrance is made from the antique fencing from the Route 67 Dunning Street Cemetery which was restored, taken apart and rebuilt as the entrance gate and sign for the Park.
Wallingford is a co-founder of the Malta Veterans Appreciation.
Former Supervisor Vincent Delucia, Wallingford’s longtime friend, served as master of ceremonies.