Veterans honored during Memorial Day Ceremony at Saratoga National Cemetery
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> Hundreds of volunteers paid their respect to the nation’s veterans on Saturday by placing an American flag in front of every veteran’s gravesite as part of a Memorial Day tradition at the Gerald B. H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.
The flag distribution was the start of the cemetery’s annual Memorial Day Ceremony; an event that recognizes the service and sacrifice given to the nation by those veterans at final rest on its grounds.
The cemetery’s administration moved its annual Monday Memorial Day ceremony to Saturday this year to coincide with the placement of the flags, a change from years past.
The formal Memorial Day Ceremony which followed the flag placement was a late morning event that included recorded martial music, a rifle volley, several cannon volleys, the ringing of the bell from the USS Saratoga, moving live music, and speeches from several of the area’s elected officials. But it was the placing of the flags; that individual moment of respect given each service member at their gravesite that was the most moving part of the day.
As the groups of volunteers, from youngsters to grandparents, went about the business of putting the flags out, one military veteran in each group read the inscription for each veteran and gave the deceased a well-earned salute.
“I feel good,” said Boy Scout Brandon Garrand of Troop 54 in Burnt Hills. “I feel we did our good daily turn.”
When asked to look at all the gravesites with their flags fluttering in the breeze, Garrand spoke from the heart.
“It makes me feel appreciation,” he said. “Without them we wouldn’t be here. It gives you something to think about when you put a flag down.”
One of the more emotional sights during the morning ceremony was the entrance of the Patriot Guard Riders. The group of around 40 marched in formation to the gravesite of Medal of Honor recipient Tech. Sgt. Peter J. Dalessandro a World War II U.S. Army veteran who died Oct. 5, 1997.
The business of placing of flags for that section of the cemetery came to a halt as the Guard’s leader read aloud how Dalessandro put his life at risk multiple times including calling in a mortar barrage on top of his position in order to save members of his platoon while he battled Germans in a World War II firefight.
When the description of the action was concluded members of the Patriot Guard Riders gave Dalessandro a snappy salute and placed a blue Medal of Honor flag at his gravesite.
The late-morning portion of the day’s ceremony was more formal with an invocation, posting of colors, the pledge of allegiance, the National Anthem, a flyover from a C130, and remarks by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, U.S. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner D-Round Lake.
The day’s keynote address was given by Liza Pozzebon, executive director of cemetery operations for the National Cemetery Administration.
In their brief remarks Stefanik and Jordan looked at the history behind Memorial Day and how important it is to remember the sacrifices made by the veterans and their families.
“I am truly honored to be here with you on these hallowed grounds as we join together to honor the bravest; those who have fallen while defending our nation,” Stefanik said. “For anyone here who has lost a friend or a family member in combat, it is their courage and sacrifice that we join together to recognize.”
Jordan looked at the results of those sacrifices.
“So many brave souls of our armed forces have made this ultimate sacrifice so that we may be free; so our ideas and ideals remain; so our shores and soil may be protected so America may continue,” Jordan said. “We walk in their footsteps, cherish their memory and give thanks for their courage. We remember their names and honor their service.”
Tonko too, took a look back at what started out as Decoration Day and eventually became Memorial Day. Noting the Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Families in the front row of folding chairs in front of him Tonko noted those seated in those chairs were visible reminds of the painful consequences of war.
Memorial Day, he said, “is the essence of that beacon of hope to freedomloving people around the world. This is a day to remind us of those patriots who are beloved, who loved this nation; patriots who loved this nation beyond self, patriots who understood they would fight for a cause greater than themselves. It is they who have enabled us to shine more brilliantly, more boldly as that beacon of hope to remind all other nations that it is the fight for freedom that has prevailed in this great United States of America.”
Woerner used her remarks to vividly show how veterans’ ultimate sacrifice while in combat has deep familial effects. Citing a statistic that showed 35 Americans had died in combat situations overseas since she was at the ceremony one year ago, Woerner noted that the 33 men and two women killed in action ranged in age from 19 to 43, and left behind 16 spouses, 36 children and three grandchildren.
“They grieve their loss and face a future without a father or mother to guide them,” she said.
Sitting in the second row of seats was Robert Engel, 94, one of four World War II veterans at the service. A native of the Bronx, Engel served in the Seabees with the U.S. Navy and spent 37 years at GE in Schenectady as a machinist.
“As far as I know there are just three members of my battalion still alive; I’m here to honor them and to honor all these people who are here honoring the veterans,” he said. “In 1976 I had a dinner for the battalion at the Turf Inn and we had 200 people, guys with their wives, and now there’s only three of us left. I don’t want any honors. I’m just here today for those of us who are still here.”
Erin Knight, center, a US Navy veteran, salutes after placing an American flag on a veteran’s grave at Saratoga National Cemetery Saturday. With Knight are her children, twins, Chloe, 8. and Ethan, 8, left and right.
Gregory Tomik of Troop 54 in Burnt Hills lines up a row of flags his troop has placed Saturday in the Gerald B. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery
Veterans’ gravesites in the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery adorned with American flags for Memorial Day 2019