As the country marked Veterans Day, Jim Gage of the Saugerties American Legion Post 72 read a memorandum put out by William McRaven, chancellor of the University of Texas and a retired admiral and former Navy Seal. “We as a country need to come together and heal,” Gage said at the Saugerties Veterans Day ceremony.
“Honoring the flag does not imply that the republic for which it stands is perfect,” wrote McRaven. “Far from it. Honoring the flag is our collective commitment that we will constantly attempt to get better as a nation, to improve as a people, and to use the freedoms we have been given to make the earth a better place.”
More than 100 people, including veterans from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan, along with Boy Scouts from Troop 135, Cub Pack 135, and Girls Scout Troop 60009, the Centerville Fire Company honor guard, the Saugerties Police Department, and the Legion’s Honor Guard, turned out for the ceremony on November 11 at 11 a.m., the time that marked the armistice at the end of World War I.
Also at the ceremony were two attendees whose friendship crosses the river of years. Joe Nista is an 89-year old Army veteran who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Nine-year-old Jonathan McNamara is a member of scout troop 135. The two met and formed a bond of friendship at St. John’s The Evangelist Church.
“He took a liking to me,” Nista said of his friend, “and I took a liking to him and took him under my wing.”
Nista said he got into the Army right after they dropped the A-bomb, and was stationed on two different islands originally held by the Japanese. “I joined up when I was 18 years and two months old. It was a long time ago,” Nista said.
“The guys in the field would collect all of the enemy’s weapons and leave them at schools,” he reminisced, “and we’d go and collect them there and then destroy them.”
What memory sticks most in his mind from his years of service? Nista tells the story of Christmas Eve, 1945. His unit was housed in a former Japanese airplane hanger that had been bombed by U.S. planes. “They had bombed the hell out of it and there were holes in the roof, and I remember that snow was coming through the roof that day. A priest was suffering from shell shock and shaking so badly as he passed out the communion wafers. The only thing keeping us warm were fires in 55-gallon drums,” Nista said.
McNamara looked at his older friend with affection, In the time the two have known each other, Nista has given him books about the war, and told him the history of the war. “And ’ve given him a couple of service pins as well,” Nista added.