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Holley community appreciates book on 8 local soldiers who died in Vietnam War

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 January 2017 at 9:41 pm
Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Author Michael Keene signs a copy of his book: Vietnam Reflections:  The Untold Story of the Holley Boys for Bev Brennan, a Holley native who lives in Brockport. Brennan said she graduated from Holley prior to the Holley Boys, but has siblings their age. Keene did, “an excellent job,” with the book, Brennan said.

Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Author Michael Keene signs a copy of his book: Vietnam Reflections:  The Untold Story of the Holley Boys for Bev Brennan, a Holley native who lives in Brockport. Brennan said she graduated from Holley prior to the Holley Boys, but has siblings their age. Keene did, “an excellent job,” with the book, Brennan said.

HOLLEY – Michael Keene, author of a book on eight men from Holley who died in the Vietnam War, was thanked by Holley residents today for his effort in Vietnam Reflections: The Untold Story of the Holley Boys.  

Fantastic, the format is tremendous,” Holley/Murray historian Marsha DeFilipps said about the book, which includes profiles of each soldier and background on the war and the community in the 1960s.

Tom Totter speaks with Michael Keene during the book signing.  Totter said his wife is the niece of Ronald Sisson, one of the Holley Boys.  She was, "very moved by the book," Totter said.

Tom Totter speaks with Michael Keene during the book signing.  Totter said his wife is the niece of Ronald Sisson, one of the Holley Boys.  She was, “very moved by the book,” Totter said.

Keene was at the American Legion in Holley Saturday afternoon to sign copies of the book and speak with community members, friends and family of the eight Vietnam soldiers featured in the book.

DeFilipps said Keene did an excellent job interviewing family members of the “Holley Boys” – John P. Davis, David D. Case, Ronald P. Sisson, Howard L. Bowen, Gary E. Bullock, Gary L. Stymus, George W. Fischer Jr., and Paul S. Mandraccia.

“The families were finally ready to talk about it,” DeFilipps said. “Michael Keene brought out the best of them.”

She assisted Keene in research for the book and in contacting family members.

Keene said he spoke with 35 family members of the “Holley Boys” to compile information for the book.

“I found myself drawn to this community and immersed myself in the history of the community and the lives of the boys,” Keene said.

The village of Holley’s loss during the Vietnam War was staggering.

“It was among the worst casualty rates of any town and high school in the U.S. during Vietnam,” Keene said.

It is clear the Holley community continues to mourn.  Jerry Dowd became emotional remembering his best friend, Howard L. Bowen.

“We are so thankful that somebody would write a great book,” he told Keene. Dowd said he and Bowen shared many happy times together and that Bowen loved people. He said Bowen expressed feelings prior to leaving for the war, that he would not be coming home.

Bowen’s sister, Jane Robinson, also attended the book signing. She said the book is very good. “It’s a beautiful book,” Robinson said.

“We are very pleased to be able to host Mr. Keene today,” former village mayor and retired Holley Central School teacher John Kenney said.

Kenney knows the families of all eight soldiers. He moved to Holley in 1964 and said he taught some of the boys and many of their siblings.

“We’ve known for a long time that the proportion of the dead to the population of village was the highest in the country,” Kenney said.

“The time is right to recognize and focus on what they have done in terms of the sacrifices they made. There is a lot of emotion tied to the old Holley High School and the Vietnam boys.”

Author Michael Keene, a Vietnam War veteran and Pittsford resident, speaks to those attending a book signing for his new book about the “Holley Boys” at the American Legion Post in Holley this afternoon.

Author Michael Keene, a Vietnam War veteran and Pittsford resident, speaks to those attending a book signing for his new book about the “Holley Boys” at the American Legion Post in Holley this afternoon.

Joyce Potote of Holley attended school with many of the soldiers featured in the book.

“I went to the senior prom with Ronnie Sisson,” she remembered.

She has yet to read the book, but noted it is good to finally get the stories of the eight out. “I will probably cry when I read the book,” she said.

Deb DeFilipps is currently reading the book. She knew Paul S. Mandraccia and said the history of the Vietnam War included in the book was very interesting. She was also moved by the inclusion of individual family letters.

“It’s heart-rending,” she said. “It brings you to tears.”

The book is now available as an audio book.  “Even people who don’t like audio books like this audio book,” Keene said.  It includes ten professional voice actors and an original musical score. “I’m proud of the book, I’m really proud of the audio book,” Keene said.

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