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Rockland Mourns Death Of Purple Heart Recipient, Vets Chief Jerry Donnellan

Three-time Purple Heart recipient Jerry Donnellan, dead at the age of 71 Photo Credit: Contributed/ Rockland County
Flags were flown at half-staff on Monday throughout Rockland County including at Gary Onderdonk Veterans Memorial Cemetery on the Rockland Community College campus in Suffern. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

Former longtime Rockland Veterans Service Agency Director Jerry Donnellan died Friday at his home in Clarkstown. He was 71.

He had retired last year after 30 years of county service.

Donnellan was a three-time Purple Heart recipient and U.S. Army sergeant who has shown generations of returning members of the service that they can live productive lives – even if they suffered devastating injuries as he did.

His full obituary can be found by clicking here:

He took the county job after losing his right leg during the Vietnam War and working as a stage manager for Frank Sinatra.

There were some 30,000 veterans, many of them from World War II, when he joined the county agency, with the population now at about 10,000.

In news interviews, Donnellan expressed concerns that the needs of returning U.S. veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan were being forgotten -- much like they had been for his Vietnam comrades. "You can't eat yellow ribbons,'' the lifelong Rockland resident once said.

Donnellan established the Rockland County Public Service Medal to honor those who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the Global War on Terror. The county director tried to raise awareness about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and encouraged returning veterans to seek help and counseling.

Other highlights of Donnellan's tenure:

  • Started a veterans health clinic in 1996, first at the Rockland County health complex in Ramapo and now in New City.
  • Helped found the Memorial Day Watchfires in 1987 as an alternative to a parade for Vietnam veterans. This became an annual tradition to honor those who never returned from war and a national event.
  • Established the Rockland County Buffalo Soldiers’ Award to recognize African-American veterans.
  • Opened the first homeless shelter -- Missing in America -- for veterans in Valley Cottage in the early 1990s, which has since closed and been transferred to Homes for Heroes in Tappan.
  • Helped start Camp Shanks Museum in Orangetown where military personnel assembled before being sent to Europe during World War II.

“Jerry Donnellan has given tirelessly to this county and this country. We can never thank him enough for all of his contributions,” Rockland County Executive Ed Day said in an earlier interview.

Donnellan grew up along the Hudson River in Nyack before the first Tappan Zee Bridge was built.

He was honorably discharged after losing his leg during combat in 1969 in Vietnam. He spent more than a year recovering. When he completed his rehabilitation, he travelled all over the world as Sinatra's stage manager.

“His door (had) always been open to any veteran who needed help,” Day said.

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