It was one of the largest turnouts for a Saugerties American Legion Post 72 Memorial Day ceremony in recent memory. More than 70 men and women veterans and about 100 friends, family and government officials came to salute those Saugertiesians who gave their lives in service to their country.
The guest of honor may have had a little bit to do with the turnout as well. Colonel Roger Donlon grew up in Saugerties, graduated from its high school, and went on to join the Army’s Special Forces. His actions during his time in Vietnam earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. He is the only Saugerties resident to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He was also the first member of the Army Special Forces and the first serviceman to serve in Vietnam to receive the award.
What were his thoughts about Memorial Day? Donlon liked the fact the Saugerties Legion Post holds its ceremony on the original day, Decoration Day.
Decoration Day was created shortly after the Civil War as a way to remember those who perished in the Civil War. It was later changed to Memorial Day to remember those who died in all the nation’s wars, and conflicts. An act of Congress changed the original day of remembrance from May 30 to the last Monday in May, but the Saugerties post — in an act of rebellion — keeps to the original Decoration Day.
Donlon looks back on his childhood in Saugerties. He learned about family members who served in World War I, and to his brothers Paul and Clark, who were wounded during their service.
Donlon’s Medal of Honor citation read in part: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while defending a U.S. military installation against a fierce attack by hostile forces. Captain Donlon was serving as the commanding officer of the U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment A-726 at Camp Nam Dong when a reinforced Viet Cong battalion suddenly launched a full-scale, predawn attack on the camp. During the violent battle that ensued, lasting five hours and resulting in heavy casualties on both sides.”
Congressman John Faso thanked the Saugerties Legion for keeping to the May 30 tradition. Memorial Day, he said, was a day that remembers those who gave their lives in service to their county, “and are never to be forgotten.”
“It’s important to remember those who took up arms to defend our country …” and quoting Lincoln, Faso asked the attendees to remember “those who gave their full measure of devotion so that we could be free.”
One of the highlights of the ceremony was Donlon presenting scholarship awards from the Legion, and the Women’s Auxiliary to graduating Saugerties High School seniors: Nicholas Dennis, Keith Hartrum, Kristyna Lilland, Abigail MacIssac, Mia Pedersen, and Abigail Smedek from the Legion, and Jennifer Dalleo and Mia Pedersen from the Auxiliary.
Korean War veteran Jimmy Gage, who served as the master of ceremonies, read off the names of those Saugerties residents who died in the nation’s wars – 80 of the 800 men who served in the Civil War, and the 70 other men who perished in World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam.
Also on hand, in addition to the veterans and the Legion’s color guard, were members of local Boy Scout troops, the color guard from the Centerville Fire Company, the Saugerties Community Band, and this year’s Poppy Girl, Claira Sawchuk.