Five years after his death, the Ulster County community on Sunday paid tribute to native son Army Pfc. Douglas Cordo, who was killed by an improvised explosive device during in Afghanistan in 2011.
On Sunday, Dec. 11, Cordo’s family, friends, supporters, officials and members of the Rolling Thunder organization unveiled a sign dedicating Route 32 from Kingston to Saugerties as the Pfc. Douglas Cordo Memorial Highway.
Cordo’s mother, Tracy Karsen, said the day was very meaningful to her.
“I have been waiting a long time for this. I have been talking to Charlie Alonge and his group [Rolling Thunder] and they have been helping,” she said.
Karsen said this roadway was particularly important to her son, recalling that he “drove it all the time to go back and forth to visit my mom and sister” in Glasco.
Karsen said the dedication is a bittersweet moment “but knowing his name is going to be there and people will see it makes me very happy … He was a fun-loving boy who would do anything for you. He loved life and lived it to the fullest and I say he lived more in twenty years than most people do in their lifetimes.”
Stepfather Christopher Karsen also said the day was very meaningful to the family, “especially to his mom because that it means his name will be remembered and he will be remembered. He was a good kid, he defended his country, he made a lot of friends and made a lot of people happy all in a very, very short 20 years. It’ll be a nice reminder whenever we go through here just to see his name live on.” He said Cordo “was always the one to be the morale booster whether it was among his friends or among his platoon mates.”
Charlie Alonge is a member the veteran support organization Rolling Thunder NY Chapter 3 and is the motivating force behind the naming of streets and roadways as a way to honor fallen heroes. He started in his hometown of Marlborough six years ago by naming one street after his childhood friend, William J. Partington, who was killed in Vietnam in March of 1970. Alonge said Partington’s mother lived long enough to see a street named in William’s honor, gratefully telling Alonge, “You never forget my son.” Alonge believes that as “long as a soldier’s name is alive he never died. If someone rides by here today and [asks], ‘Who was Douglas Cordo?’ we’ve done our job.”
Alonge said this is the 15th sign that has been erected in the Mid-Hudson region. His initial gesture in Marlborough has inspired a nationwide movement.
“There are thousands of signs being done now across the country, I get calls from all over,” he said.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and state Sen. George Amedore worked in together to pass a bill in their respective chambers and was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that names Route 32 for Pfc. Douglas Cordo.
Cahill recalled Cordo’s enthusiasm for life.
“Doug was a great kid and was well-known in our community. He was a little bit of a prankster, a little bit of a joker and when we have our memory of him, we try to think of the good things about him and how he made a lot of kids laugh, particularly at the Shamrock Run when he would run in his pajamas,” he said. “He wanted to come back and become a state policeman but instead he lives on in our memories for his sacrifice in Afghanistan on behalf of the people of the United States.”
Amedore said renaming this highway in Cordo’s honor is “significant.”
“His legacy will live on, his story and his sacrifice,” Amedore said. “I think it’s an inspiration to all that we live in a country that men and women serve and fight for our freedoms, liberties and justice. It comes at a great price and Douglas paid that price and this is a way that we can say thank you and also to remember and to encourage young people that they can be involved in civic duty and living out our freedoms and liberties by getting involved and serving.”
Todd Westhuis, regional director of the state Department of Transportation and himself a veteran, said it was an honor to pay tribute to Pfc. Cordo.
“Today for us at the Department of Transportation, we’re honored to dedicate a portion of this state highway to Pfc. Cordo assuring that a local hero is remembered and revered,” he said. “From this point forward all who drive on this highway will have an important reminder of their hometown hero who gave everything for our freedom.”
Cordo was an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division, out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He was killed by an improvised explosive device in Shah Joy, Zabul Province, Afghanistan on Aug. 19, 2011. Cordo had turned 20 the month before his death.