It was early on a Monday morning. The sun had just appeared on the horizon and my cat Dusty was scratching on my door reminding me that it’s morning and time to wake up. I tried to remind her it’s Memorial Day and that I have a lot to do so another hour of sleep would have been nice, but she just wanted to be fed. So, with the memory of the ceremony from the Town of Florida in my mind and looking forward to the parade and ceremony in Hagaman, I was up and started my day.
I arrived in the village an hour before the parade began realizing that they would begin blocking off the roads along the route soon. Parking at my cousin’s house, I made my way to the old cemetery where veterans from the American Revolution are buried, one of them an ancestor of mine. As I approached the cemetery I noticed a “no trespassing” sign and someone called out to me and reminded me of it. I explained to the lady in the house next to the cemetery who I was and that I was there to honor my ancestor. She told me that people had been in the cemetery without good intent and that was why the sign was posted. She apologized for stopping me and I thanked her for protecting the cemetery.
Following my visit I joined my cousins on Pawling Street along the parade route. As we waited for the parade to begin the Mohawk Valley Chorus performed several selections and the national anthem. I would later learn that this year marked the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s writing of the Star Spangled Banner that he penned while watching the attack on Fort McHenry. I took a moment and walked across the street to the memorial park near the bridge and knelt down near the Korean War monument that bears my father’s name for a private moment of reflection. I returned to talk with my cousins as the parade began.
The Hagaman Memorial Day Parade is one of the oldest in the country. Not many small villages and towns hold parades today. Most, if not all, still hold ceremonies. The Hagaman parade is a transport in time to decades past with classic cars carrying veterans, fire trucks from different towns with people tossing candy to children along the streets, the Amsterdam High School Junior ROTC, the Hagaman Volunteer Fire Department always present and passing out flags to everyone. A recent addition to the parade was the Lynch Literacy Academy band led by a former classmate of mine, Theresa Jordan. The band sounded terrific as they played for the crowd that never fails to turn out in great numbers.
People watched from their front porches or even from the rooftop of the barber shop as the parade went past. Young children, among them my six-year-old cousin waved American flags. Although many of them may not fully understand Memorial Day, the flag is always a reminder. They know what freedom means and one day thanks to ceremonies such as this one, will understand the sacrifice so many made for that freedom.
As the parade ended, veterans took their seats near the memorial as the ceremony began. Master of ceremonies Keith Schedelbauer reminded us that this day is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, and on June 6th, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings at Normandy.
“The parade and ceremony are not to celebrate conflict,” said Schedelbauer. “The parade acknowledges those still with us. The ceremony remembers those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Schedelbauer introduced the Reverend Jerry Kaufman who gave the invocation just as there was a fly over by three WWI era biplanes.
“Perfect timing,” he added.
Glenn Babcock played Amazing Grace and Lena Faustel, sang the national anthem. Guest speakers included Hagaman Mayor Thomas Krom and Leather Stocking Honor Flight coordinator Greg Furlong.
The Honor Flight Program ensures that veterans can visit the World War II Memorial in Washington DC. This June, fifty veterans will have that chance thanks to the Leatherstocking Honor Flight Program.
“This area has been very supportive of the honor flight program,” said Furlong. addressing the crowd.
“The inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have not been without cost.”
Furlong reminded every one of the ultimate sacrifice made in every conflict since the founding of this nation.
“The numbers don’t tell the real story,” he continued. “All were either a son or daughter, a brother or sister. Each was a loss to a community. We must remember their sacrifice always. For those still among us you have our deepest respect.”
Furlong reminded everyone that it’s the soldier who provides us with the freedoms we enjoy in regardless of what we aspire to be.
“It’s not the reporter who gives us freedom of the press. It’s the soldier. It’s not the politician who gives us the freedom to vote. It’s the soldier…”
The ceremony proceeded with the playing of taps, then Faustel and the chorus singing Amazing Grace, then the laying of the wreaths, then the old flag lowered and a new one raised.
Reverend Cynthia Leonard gave the convocation. Everyone was invited to the fire house for a ceremony there and refreshments afterward. I stopped to thank Keith Schedelbauer and then caught up with my cousins on my way back to their house. Along the way the flag that was handed to me earlier in the day fell out of my back pocket without me realizing it. I wanted to place it on my grandmothers grave in the Hagaman cemetery. After all her son, my dad , was a veteran. I searched for the flag as I drove down the street but someone had already picked it up. When I arrived at the grave site there was a flag already there. Slightly faded, it looked like the one I had placed from the year before.
My Memorial Day journey did not end there. I traveled with my mother to the Saratoga National Cemetery where both my father and step father are buried. My father served in the United States Marine Corps in the Korean War. He was in every major battle during the conflict from the landings at Inchon to the Chosin Reservoir. He was wounded twice and received the Purple Heart. While his company was advancing up a hill near the Chosin Reservoir, the enemy attacked with mortars and grenades. I remember he had told me that a grenade exploded in the line of men ahead of him. He was badly wounded and had to crawl down the hill to safety. Two men helped him on to of all things an ammunition truck where he was transported to a mobile army surgical hospital, known as a M*A*S*H unit. The war was over for him from a combat sense, but he would always have to deal with the injuries to his back and the haunting memories of battle. Years later he couldn’t sit through war movies such as Saving Private Ryan. It was just too much for him. He passed away in 2009.
My step father was a World War II veteran. He served in the United States Navy aboard the troop ship USS Calvert and later the battle cruiser USS Guam. While in the Pacific, he served in many battles and was a boat driver bringing the men ashore at the landings on Iwo Jima. While serving aboard the USS Guam he suffered an injury to his hand. He refused the purple heart saying that it didn’t occur in battle and that there were others who deserved it more. My step father remained in contact with veterans who served aboard the USS Calvert and often wore a baseball cap with the ships name on it. He never forgot his service and was quick to remind anyone of the sacrifice of those who served. He passed away in 2012.
As my mother and I left the cemetery we had noticed the number of graves had greatly increased since the passing of my father and step father. The rows of graves had inched toward the road in the section where my father is buried. The names etched into rows at the columbarium where my step father’s urn is placed have nearly filled the one side. Only two years ago there were only a few rows.
Last year , the last of the WWI veterans passed away. Now, the number of surviving WWII and Korean War veterans is in decline. We lose so many each year. As a nation, as a community, now more than ever we need to take the time to listen to their stories and to understand what they went through. We must never forget the sacrifice that they and all veterans have made so that we can live with the freedoms we have.
It’s now 6am on a Tuesday morning and my cat Dusty is scratching at my door. I know she just wants to be fed, but she reminds me I have a story to write. It’s no longer Memorial Day on the calendar but I remember. Everyday I remember.