On March 19, 1968, 22-year-old Martin Biondo was killed while serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. According to reports, the infantryman, a former class president at St. John Vianney High School, was wounded several days earlier by an explosion from an enemy booby trap in Gia Dinh Province.
Fifty-one years later, Biondo’s family members gathered at a Memorial Day Mass at St. Peter Parish Cemetery in Kirkwood where Biondo, his brother, Michael, and his parents, Joseph and Beverly, are buried.
“This is so very special, a special day and a special church,” said his sister, Kathy Maher. She was accompanied by siblings Ann Finnegan, Debbie Vandover, Petie Modray and Joseph Biondo Jr. Speaking after taps and a moment of silence at the conclusion of Mass on May 27, Maher added that the Mass was especially important for Vietnam veterans, who didn’t get the honors they deserved at the time.
The Mass was organized to honor all men and women who served in the military as well as first responders, especially the ones from the parish who died while serving the country or community. Biographies of six veterans and flags were placed at their gravesites, and, before Mass, two St. Peter School students, Keegan McCarthy and Maryn Allgeyer, read the bios of two men who died in World War I and World War II. The students are part of a school program called Faith in Action in which fourth-graders reached out to military veterans and active duty service men and women.
American Heritage Girls served as a color guard, posting the U.S. flag and leading the Pledge of Allegiance. The General Intercessions prayed for all those who have died in the service of the country and local communities, innocent victims of war, military chaplains, prison camp inmates, victims of terrorism, those who suffer psychological and physical wounds in the defense of freedom and justice, bereaved families and friends, and others.
Msgr. Jack Costello, pastor of the parish, gave a history of Memorial Day, noting that flowers and flags were available for families to place on gravesites, calling it a fitting gesture given the Decoration Day origins of Memorial Day. In his homily, Msgr. Costello gave examples where name tags, such as those on military members, represent self-giving and love of country. “They’re willing to give up their lives, and so many did,” he said.
Name tags also can represent discipleship and a sense of hope, Msgr. Costello added. “Every time you show love to each other, every time you do that, you’re wearing your name tag as a disciple of Jesus,” he said.
At the end of Mass, he asked people to pause to remember the “brave warriors and first responders” who gave their lives for the ideals of the country and to “comfort those who have lost loved ones in the cause for peace.”
Mary Beth Hughes of Our Lady of the Pillar Parish said she was touched by the Mass. Her husband, George T. Hughes, an Air Force veteran, was buried at the cemetery just a couple weeks earlier. She said her husband, a “wonderful husband, father and grandfather,” graduated from dental school in 1956, was drafted and served a year in Greenland, the only dentist there for much of the time.
Hughes pointed to gravesites of several people she knows and added that her mother, father and grandmother also are buried in the cemetery.
After Mass, Al Pollman helped his wife, Patricia, decorate the grave of her parents, Thomas and Hallie Quinn, and brother, Thomas Quinn Jr., a U.S. Army veteran. Patricia Pollman has longtime ties to the parish. She lives in the same house where she was born and her husband’s family home, just four blocks away, is now owned by their son.
Jane Shea, who served as a nurse in the U.S. Army and retired from the Veterans Administration, said she feels connected to everyone who has served in the military. Shea appreciated the message of sacrifice, love and connectedness and that “there’s no greater love than giving your life.”
Some other parishioners including Boy Scouts took part in a ceremony that morning in Downtown Kirkwood.
>> Faith in Action
St. Peter School in Kirkwood’s Faith in Action
program involves students in reaching out to people in the community.
The fourth-graders are linked with military veterans and active duty
service men and women. In that role, the last four years they have
presented stories at the city’s Memorial Day event in Downtown Kirkwood.
They also highlighted those military heroes at a Memorial Day Mass this
year at the parish cemetery.
Highlighted were six former parishioners:
• Armand Baldenweck,
a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War I who was assigned to a
field artillery unit. He was killed in an accident during a training
session, and his funeral at St. Peter was one of the largest in
Kirkwood, according to reports at the time.
• Martin Biondo, a U.S. Army specialist, was killed in the Vietnam War in 1967.
• William Blankemeier enlisted
in the Navy in 1942 and trained as a pilot. He was killed in a crash
while serving as an instructor of cadets at Lambert Field in St. Louis.
• William Francis Cronin,
former captain of the basketball team at Chaminade High School and the
youngest-ever to be elected to a county office as St. Louis County
public administrator, was drafted as a U.S. Army private during World
War II. He rose to staff sergeant and legal clerk at Walter Reed Army
Hospital in Washington, D.C. where he died of a head injury after
falling down a flight of stairs.
• Leonard “Pete” Perez was
a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Marines in World War II who was a platoon
leader involved in fierce fighting in Okinawa. He was killed as he led
his squad a few days after he directed and assisted with the evacuation
of 48 wounded men from a valley under heavy fire.
• George A. Reed,
a corporal in the U.S. Army, volunteered to accompany a patrol into the
village of Lugau in the Saxony region of eastern Germany on May 6,
1945, just two days before Germany surrendered to end the war. He was
struck by an enemy mortar.
>> Memorial Day
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5,
1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans, Maj. Gen. John A.
Logan, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate
the graves of the war dead. It is believed that May 30 was chosen
because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large
observance was at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866, including
Carbondale, Ill., where a stone in the cemetery carries the statement
that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29,
After World War I, observances were expanded to honor those
who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a
national holiday by an act of Congress.
Peace and joy
From the Memorial Day Mass at St. Peter Parish Cemetery:
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
“Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is
any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about
“Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Philippians 4: 6-9