Memorial Day, on May 28 this year, gives Americans a chance to commemorate the sacrifices that young men and women make to keep this country free.
Since its formation in 1919 at the end of World War I, the members of the Lamouree-Hackett Post 75 on John Street have been making sure that folks don’t forget those Saugertesians who have served their country.
The task of ensuring that future generations would not forget originally fell to Rev. Jeremiah Wemple, who in 1920 took it upon himself to conduct a survey of those who served during World War I and to chronicle their experiences. He received a total of 141 responses, of which nine were from officers, according to three legion members who have taken on the task of keeping the Legion’s museum active and vibrant.
After sending a copy into the state archives, Wemple kept the original, according to retired Major William H. Payne, co-curator of the museum. This was a good thing, because many of the original paper records given to the state were by towns were lost.
The American Legion’s records show that 22 of those who served from Saugerties in World War I died, and of those, 11 died from influenza, which swept across the globe killing untold numbers at the end of the war.
The records collected by Wemple are written in the hand of those who served and in many cases served.
For a number of years, the Wemple records were lost, actually misplaced somewhere in the Legion building. Just a few years ago, however, they were found and are now an important part of the museum, said Robert Chappelle, who is co-curator with Payne.
All of the handwritten notes and photos are available for research for students who are doing a paper on World War I or for those looking to research their family histories, explained Legion post member and historian Alan Greczynski.
But, the World War I histories are not the only ones that are available for research, Payne said.
The three men are currently working with the Library of Congress on a project to record the histories of all Saugerties residents who served in all the nation’s wars. While those who served in World War I and before are long gone, there are still a number of vets who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan who they would like to get before a camera to talk about their time in the service.
Some of the stories have been tough, Grecynski said, with veterans only willing to talk partially about what happened, and some that didn’t want to talk about their actual service at all because of the nature of the things they had seen or experienced.
There are believed to be 20 veterans of World War II that are still living in Saugerties. The Legion has 230 members total.
Payne, Chappelle, and Greczynski have recorded 60 service members from the wars so far but want to have more.
“It’s important to keep this history alive,” Payne said. “If we don’t know where we came from, we don’t know where we are going.”
Quoting George Santayana, Chappelle said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The American Legion museum has more than 300 items on display from the nation’s wars starting mostly with the Civil War, although there are a few items from before that. The premises are only scheduled to be open two days a week: Memorial Day and Veterans Day. But anyone can call the Legion to make an appointment to check it out by calling 845-246-6769.
And while the museum for the most part is a product of the American Legion, teens from the high school and Girl Scouts have played a role in it as well.
Display cases have been built by the high school’s Key Club, and the local Girl Scout troop has carefully removed more than 300 military patches that were glued onto felt and then sewed them onto display boards.
“This museum is not only a look at Saugerties military history, it’s also a result of the community working together,” Payne said.