In New Paltz, Memorial Day has been celebrated on May 30 for as long as anyone can remember, thumbing a metaphorical nose at the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, and aligning the community with the position advocated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, members of which have argued for a return to May 30 since at least 2002. This year, there was no controversy, as the last Monday of May fell on May 30, allowing traditionalists and supporters of long holiday weekends to join together without confusion for the annual parade and remembrance.
As local dignitaries, scouts, civic leaders, fire and rescue volunteers joined living veterans on Main Street to remember comrades who did not return from the battlefield, several onlookers agreed to reflect upon the meaning of the day. Patty Salone, who watched the parade with her son Lukas Magee, said, “It’s a good day to remember people who inspired us.” Magee said that the holiday filled him with thoughts of independence, freedom and liberty. Having been recently pelted by largesse tossed from floats, he added with a smile, “and candy.”
Watching from a retaining wall, New Paltz resident Sandra said that the day makes her think about how returning veterans are assimilated back into civilian life. She recalled the difficulties her brother and his fellows faced after a tour in Vietnam. “They came home someone different,” she said. “They’re the lost souls of this land.” Memorial Day, in her view, is “a day every person in this country should do something for veterans.” She added that after watching the president at Arlington Memorial Cemetery earlier in the day, she understood his reluctance to commit more troops to wars on foreign soil. “He feels the loss of every single life personally,” she said.
Janine was waiting to see each of her four children in the parade, and teared up when asked about the significance of the day. “I’m just so grateful,” the Gardiner resident said. Many members of her family have served in the military, she said, including a brother who recently died stateside and a nephew who just began his third tour in Afghanistan.
“It’s a day to honor and remember those who defended this country,” said Lenora, a New Paltzian who watched the procession.
The ceremony in front of the fire house was simple, yet powerful. After a blessing by a local clergy member, those in attendance recited the Pledge of Allegiance and the high school band played the national anthem. As bagpipes mournfully played “Amazing Grace,” new wreaths were laid at the war memorials in front of the building. A 21-gun salute in the honor of the fallen was followed by “Taps,” played by a bugler, and after a moment of quiet contemplation the ceremony was closed by another prayer.
For a few minutes, the people of New Paltz set aside their differences of politics, religion and community character. For that period of time, they remembered, and what is remembered, lives.