BAYONNE NJ - In his last letter from Vietnam in 1966, Lance Corporal Stanley “Kop” Kopcinski told his parents that he expected to be reassigned to Japan, but reminded them that he still had an important job to do as a U.S. Marine.
Not long later, in May 1966, his parents received telegrams from the U.S. State Department that Kopcinski had died as a result of what was then described “fragmentary wounds” to his body while in a defensive position near DaNang in South Vietnam.
Kop would become the first soldier from Bayonne to be killed in the Vietnam War, but not the last.
Bayonne would see 29 young men die – the greatest loss of any city per capita in the United States.
After lobbying for decades, Kop's childhood friend, Joseph Kochanski, with the help of local officials and the The Joyce-Herbert VFW Post 226, named a new park after the fallen hero.
“It took me two and half years to put this together,” Kochanski said Wednesday.
With the color guards of police and fire departments, the Marine Corps League and local veterans groups, city officials unveiled the monument that will keep Kopcinski's memory alive at a location near the heart of the city's shopping district.
Kochanski told those in attendance that he and Kop grew up on the same block on East. 19th Street.
“He was active in all streets sports that we all took part in during the late 1950s and early 1960s,” he said.
“This includes playing stick ball, basketball, touch football. Stan seemed to excel in all these sports and was known as a better than average player.”
As a boxer in the Golden Glove boxing program, Kop knew how to handle himself although never looked for a fight. He was also a member of the Police Athletic League.
In a letter published in the Jersey Observer shortly after his death, Kop's aunt said, “He was such a quiet boy. When he was going to high school he had a part time job as a milkman, and used to get up early in the morning before going off to school.”
Kop and Kochanski went to the same schools together, and later enlisted in service after they both graduated Bayonne Technical High School in 1964.
“Joining the military was a rite of passage,” Kochanski said. “I joined the army. Stan joined the marines.”
In 1964, the United States was not yet engaged in the war, but as the conflict escalated over the next year, both men found themselves aboard ships sailing to South East Asia.
Kochanski was engaged in combat when he heard about Kop's death and tried to get back to the United State to help mourn his childhood friend – but the Army would not give him leave and he had to mourn at a distance.
He never forgot his friend, he said.
In a letter written to mark the establishment of the Stanley Kopcinski Award in the early 1990s, Frank Keefer, a man who had served with Kop, spoke to the bonds that Marines formed training, and later fighting, together. Keefer said when Marines went into combat they did so as a family, not just a name on a roster as many other soldiers of that time had done.
“Kop was everyone's best friend and the most loved man in his unit,” Keefer said.
Kop was sometimes known as “Canvas Back” because of his experience as a Golden Glove boxer back in Bayonne. While in boot camp in Parris Island, Kop scored highest for his platoon as a rifle expert.
Keefer said Kop was later transferred to another unit. But a few weeks before Kop's death, he got to see him one last time. He tried to talk Kop out of that last deployment. But Kop had too great a sense of duty to avoid the conflict and went off to the fight anyway.
Keefer called Kop the “All American Kid,” someone straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, a natural leader, and a diamond in the rough waiting to get polished him into a real gem.
In the ceremony that marked the dedication of the new park, not far from Kop's childhood home, Chaplain Joseph Formola, of the Vietnam Veterans of America State Council raised some of the questions that came to mind such as why God chose to take Kop at such an early age. But Formola assured the dozens of people assembled for the ceremony that Kop had a place of honor as did all of those men and women who stepped forward in their country's time of need.
Mayor Jimmy Davis echoed this sentiment when he said Kop was among “the forever young,” and someone the city would never forget.
“We see our country being torn apart these days,” Davis said. “But we only need to look at our veterans to know what we stand for.”
Davis thanked Ingerman Companies, the developer of 19 East development for setting a portion of the property aside for the park.
“Kopcinski Park is expected to host community events and to serve as focal point of the Broadway commercial district,” Davis said.
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