Community honors Vietnam hero Stephen E. Karopczyc
By Jillian Forstadt
The American Legion Post 1711 in Levittown recently unveiled a new memorial in honor of 1st Lt. Stephen E. Karopczyc, a former Bethpage resident and Medal of Honor recipient.
The memorial’s dedication on March 10 occurred just two days before the 51st anniversary of Karopczyc’s death on March 12, 1967. Karopczyc died shielding his comrades during a battle in the Vietnam War, and received the medal for his bravery posthumously.
Karopczyc was born in New York City on March 5, 1944, and grew up in Bethpage, attending Island Trees Schools and Chaminade High School. His father served in the Navy during World War II and was a member of the American Legion Post 1711.
Locally, Karopczyc’s memory has been honored with the naming of the Island Trees School District’s administrative building, as well as with plaques at both MacArthur High School in Levittown and the Bethpage Long Island Railroad station. No other memorial, however, had captured Karopczyc’s likeness.
John ‘J.J.’ Brady, who conceived the memorial while serving as the commander of Post 1711 in 2016, said a physical representation of a veteran’s bravery was necessary for the area given its history.
“This is a town that was founded for veterans and was first settled by veterans,” Brady said. “We have all these things, but something more should’ve been done. There was room to do more and pick out an individual or an event that meant something.”
The memorial, located at the flagpole in the parking lot of the American Legion building, features a bronze statue that reflects Karopczyc as pictured in his Class A uniform.
Karopczyc attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL, where he served in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and graduated with a degree in political science in 1965. He entered the service later that year, and upon completing advanced training, he was deployed to Vietnam, where he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division.
According to the citation accompanying his medal, Karopczyc was confronted by a small enemy unit while leading the 3rd Platoon, Company A. In an effort to relieve a nearby platoon in trouble, he ran toward the enemy’s open fire and threw colored smoke grenades to alert American helicopter gunships of the enemy.
His leadership quickened the advance of his platoon and prompted the enemy to retreat, but he was shot above the heart by an enemy sniper while directing the company. Karopczyc refused aid, plugging the open wound with his finger until it could be properly attended to.
He later led his troops in a defense against the enemy troops, which had regained strength. After several hours of fighting, a North Vietnamese soldier threw a hand grenade within a few feet of Karpoczyc and two of peers. Although Karpoczyc stood in a protected position, he leaped towards the grenade to cover it with a steel helmet. His action prevented injury to the two other men, yet fragments of the grenade cut into Karpoczyc’s legs.
Karpoczyc continued to guide the company for another two hours and died shortly thereafter due to his battle wounds.
“1st Lt. Karopczyc’s heroic leadership, unyielding perseverance, and selfless devotion to his men were directly responsible for the successful and spirited action of his platoon throughout the battle and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U. S. Army,” the citation states.
The $25,000 bronze statue was partially funded by a grant from the Nassau County Department of Parks, Recreation & Museums, which covered nearly 90 percent of the cost.
The statue and matching plaque were later sculpted by Brodin Studios, founded by two army veterans in Kimball, MI.
Brady, along with fellow veterans and American Legion members Frank Marcinek and John Padavano, mounted the 200-pound statue in late February. More than 300 veterans and locals attended the outdoor dedication ceremony, according to Brady. The commemoration mirrored the style of a traditional military, Brady said, complete with the firing of a three-volley salute and the bugle call “Taps.” A luncheon inside the American Legion building followed the unveiling. Walter Karopczyc, Stephen’s younger brother, attended the dedication service along with a number of family members.
“Hopefully, it is less about my brother and more about providing a sense of purpose, a selflessness that my brother lived his life around and exhibited in his acts of bravery, and that inspires others to similarly strive for the best within themselves,” Karopczyc said.
The memorial can be viewed at American Legion Post 1711 in Levittown, located at 3123 North Jerusalem Rd.