Family members of five volunteers who brought the ships to Buffalo will be honored
BUFFALO, N.Y. – July 15, 2017 – The Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park celebrated the arrival of the USS Little Rock CG-4 and USS The Sullivans DD-537 to Buffalo, N.Y., in July 1977 today by honoring five of the volunteers who served as crew members that delivered the ships to Buffalo and assisted in establishing the park.
The five men who were honored include:
Michael Bertini, served as the volunteer Chef for both the USS The Sullivans and USS Little Rock crew. Bertini served in the Army during World War ll in the Aleutians and after the Army was a matre’d at the High Gate Club in Buffalo. Later in life, he opened his own Barber Shop and worked there for more than 20 years.
Joseph Heilig, served as a volunteer on the USS Little Rock when he was encouraged by his brother, Thomas Heilig, the Captain (see bio below) of the ship to help. Heilig was a Seaman First Class (Sonar Equipment Operator) in the U.S. Navy and at the end of World War II was honorably discharged. When he returned home, he went back to work at Bethlehem Steel Co. and during that time he took the exam to become a New York State Trooper, where he served a little over four years. Heilig, then went on to work as a Parole Officer and had various other jobs in law enforcement. When he finished his time in law enforcement, he became a Truck Driver and finally a Bus Driver for the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS).
Thomas “Tom” Heilig, QMC, USN was a Quartermaster Chief Petty Officer and Captain of the USS Little Rock volunteer crew. Enlisted in the service from 1945 – 1954, he then joined the Active Reserves till 1977. Heilig worked for the Buffalo Police Department, Transportation Department (traffic signals and signs) for 25 years when he retired and traveled as a repairman for autoclaves.
George E. Rease, honored for helping bring both the USS The Sullivans and the USS Little Rock to the area, enlisted in the US Navy at age 17 and served aboard the USS Oklahoma City CL-91 with the Pacific fleet as a gunner. Rease was honorably discharged from the Navy at the rate of Seaman First Class a little over a year later. He was employed by the City of Buffalo Streets Department as an equipment operator.
Leonard “Lenny” Sniadecki, a volunteer on the USS Little Rock was a Torpedoman-Second Class and served aboard the USS Trepang, SS 412 when he enlisted at age 18 and served until the World War II ends. He was a bus driver for the N.F.T.A. until he joined the Buffalo Police Department and served for 39 years.
In the mid-1970s, Former Buffalo City Court Judge and Air Force Veteran, Anthony LoRusso, went to North Carolina to see a friend who was in the Navy. During LoRusso’s stay, he visited a Naval Museum that included a museum ship. He envisioned Buffalo as a perfect place to have a similar military museum.
After returning home, LoRusso spoke with Buffalo City officials and in June of 1977 tugboats from New York City traveled to Philadelphia, PA along with 19 volunteers, most City of Buffalo employees who gave up their vacation, to navigate these massive ships. The transit included following the New England shoreline to the entrance of the St. Lawrence Seaway, across Lake Ontario and through the Welland Canal to Lake Erie. The ships moored along the Buffalo River waterfront and became The Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park.
As stated above, nearly all the volunteers who brought the ships from Philadelphia to Buffalo were city workers. A call was put out to City of Buffalo employees who were veterans of either World War II or the Korean War and interested in helping make history and move these historic ships to the area.