LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — As we observe Veterans Day this weekend, Niagara County is honoring a World War I veteran who was known as the second bravest man in the U.S. Army.
Niagara County officials honored war hero Private First Class Frank Gaffney by creating a permanent display for his medals in the Niagara County Courthouse rotunda.
Gaffney is a Niagara County native and enlisted in the Army when he was 33-years-old. The 27th Infantry Brigade was called into service in 1917, and in the 1918, deployed to France to breach the Hindenburg Line.
Gaffney is credited for pushing forward alone after members of his squad were killed. His mission was successful, allowing the Allies to move in and led to the end of the war.
“The attack was horrible. There were a lot of casualties and there are a lot of reasons for that. My grandfather carried on and he kept moving forward. He did some incredible things, amazing things. The Hindenburg Line was broken and the Allies were able to move forward and it hastened the end of that war,” Patrick Foran, Gaffney’s grandson, said. “It was something that I grew up with. These were family things and things I could look at. My grandmother would talk to me about that and explain to me what they were and what he did. It was part of what the family was.”
Gaffney’s story is nothing short of remarkable. He is credited for having a significant role in the battle of St. Quentin Canal Tunnel. Gaffney was wounded in combat, resulting in the amputation of his left arm.
His military honors include The Purple Heart, several medals from other countries in the Allied Force, and the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is the highest military award for valor. Gaffney’s family kept his medals and other artifacts from the war, but they say it’s time to share them with the public in a permanent display.
“We’ve had these records and we’ve protected them and kept them safe. We felt it was time that they really need to be seen and not just be kept away and preserved. That was our intent,” Theresa Foran, Gaffney’s family member, said.
During the dedication ceremony, John Strasburg, an author who wrote a book solely about Gaffney’s service, emphasized the importance of keeping Gaffney’s story in the forefront, especially as we observe Veterans Day.
“Not only does Frank’s star shine again, but that display is now a beacon,” Strasburg added. “When people visit the Niagara County Courthouse and they walk across the rotunda, and they see this beautiful exhibit with the medals inside, they’re going to be drawn to it like a moth to a flame.”
Gaffney’s service will forever be enshrined in Niagara County history to remember his name and what he did for the United States.
“There’s a lot of people in Niagara County and in Western New York that don’t know Frank Gaffney and we have to correct that because they should,” Sen. Rob Ortt, minority leader for the New York State Senate, said. “We have to let people know these heroes were in our midst that still have descendents that are in Western New York and across the state and across the country because their actions are absolutely heroic.”
Gaffney moved back to Western New York and lived in Niagara Falls where he worked for the International Paper Company. He died in 1948 at the age of 62.
The permanent display is open in the courthouse rotunda during business hours.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.