‘Mr. Veteran’ James A. Wilson receives posthumous honors in Schenectady (w/video)

A woman seated with others at ceremony
Denis Kopacz, center, daughter of James A. Wilson listens to another presenter, sitting next to her husband, Joseph, left, and NY State Senator Jim Tedisco Saturday.

SCHENECTADY — James A. Wilson touched a lot of hearts not just as an active military member, but through his continued advocacy after. He’s remembered as “Mr. Veteran.”

Wilson, who died last October, served in the U.S. Navy from December 1944 to July 1949. While he received a plethora of medals and accolades for his service, it was his work upon returning home that set him apart.

“He’s done so much for everyone else,” said his daughter, Denise Kopacz. “It was his calling,”

Schenectady County began the Honor-A-Veteran program in 2017, and is one of the only agencies to offer the honor to both living and deceased veterans. Chuck Shannon, a member of the Honor-A-Veteran committee, was a close friend of Wilson, and honored him at a ceremony on Saturday afternoon.

“We wanted to give Jim an award while he was alive, but he said no,” said Shannon. “So, we figured now is the time to do it,”

Shannon also said that Wilson’s ceremony had a terrific turnout, possibly the most attended one yet.

Several local politicians attended the event, bestowing proclamations in Wilson’s honor to his family.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy worked with Wilson while McCarthy was in the county District Attorney’s office and Wilson was at the county Veterans Service Agency. The pair would often work together on issues like ensuring veterans got the benefits they were entitled to.

“I think it’s appropriate to take time to acknowledge his contributions to the community,” said McCarthy, calling Wilson a “role model.”

In his proclamation to the family, McCarthy declared March 25 to be “James A. Wilson Day” in Schenectady.

State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, spoke and remembered knocking on Wilson’s door during his most recent campaign.

@dgazette ‘Mr. Veteran’ James A. Wilson receives posthumous honors in Schenectady – 3/25/23 – Daily Gazette

“He might have went to more city council meetings than I did,” Tedisco joked in his speech.

Wilson worked as Director of the Schenectady County Veterans Service Agency, as well as serving seven terms as president of the Schenectady County Council of Veterans’ Organizations. In addition to the many medals and awards he received, Wilson was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame. He volunteered at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center for 35 years.

In addition to the several proclamations and certificates of honor Wilson received Saturday, he has been awarded The American Theater Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the European-African medal, the Navy Occupation Medal, and the Navy Victory medal.

Bill Frank, the current director of the county Veterans Agaency, called on memories of Wilson being his mentor. Wilson held Frank’s position several years prior and would often call Frank for monthly check-ins. Frank is retiring next week, and will begin training his successor Jesus Santiago.

“I have some big shoes to fill,” said Santiago. He plans to honor the legacy of Wilson by continuing the Honor-A-Veteran program, as well as working to help homeless veterans.

Wilson was a part of VFW Post 357, until he formed his own in Niskayuna. However, once the Niskayuna post closed, he returned to Post 357.

“We were happy to have him back,” said Frank.

Between his work for his fellow veteran’s Wilson could often be found watching old movies or cheering for Penn state football.

Like many of those who spoke at the ceremony, city Councilwoman Doreen Ditoro considered Wilson a friend.

“He was a gentleman’s gentleman and a veteran’s veteran.” she said.

Categories: -News-, News, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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