“Memorial Day is a day that should not only be celebrated once a year, but every single day,” said Matt Russell, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 5034. Russell was keynote speaker at the annual Memorial Day observance at the American Legion Post 72 observance of Memorial Day on Wednesday, May 30, the traditional date.
The local tradition included a half-hour of patriotic songs as the participants gather, an opening prayer, greetings from former commander Jim Gage, the keynote speech, and a reading of the names of all the Saugerties residents who died in the wars since the Civil War.
Deacon Hank Smith opened the ceremony with the invocation. “Our loving Father, all creation is so beautiful on this particular day, as we come here to remember all those who gave us the great lives that we live. May your love fill all of our hearts on this night. As we continue the service, think about the love that people had who gave their lives for you and me, so we may be free.”
In his address, Russell quoted poet Charles M. Province: “It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press; it is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech; it is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate; it is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial; it is the soldier, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote; and it is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protesters to burn the flag.”
Russell asked the assembled to join him in a moment of silence to remember those who gave their lives to defend the country. “I ask that you please continue to make a difference with your words and actions,” he concluded.
Russell had asked him not to give him an elaborate introduction, Gage said. But he did want to point out that Russell had served five years in the Marines, including three deployments to Iraq. “He was highly honored by a grateful government, and he asked me not to elaborate on those as well, Welcome home, Matt, we’re glad to have you back in Saugerties,” Gage said.
The VFW post awarded $500 scholarships to Nicholas Brennan, who plans to attend the State University of New York at Brockport and major in athletic training; to Michael Averill, who will study political science at Sienna College; to Samuel Bagshaw, who will attend Clarkson University and major in mechanical engineering; and to Gabriel Cavallaro, who plans to attend Ulster County Community College and major in forestry ranger science. Other scholarship recipients included Anna Moers, who will attend SUNY Cortland with a major in psychology, and Dante Winters, who plans to enlist in the U.S. Army.
Sumar Hart, who was not present at the ceremony, will major in biology at SUNY Albany.
The American Legion Auxiliary also awarded scholarships to Nicholas Brennan and Michael Averill.
As the band played, past commander Gage read the names of servicemen who fell in the Civil War and the subsequent wars. Following the reading of the names, the ceremony closed with a salute fired by members of the American Legion post.
Following the ceremony, the history museum in the Legion building was opened to the public, with guided commentary by Bill Payne.
Post Chaplain Paul Peyser offered a prayer: “As we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, our POWs and MIAs unaccounted for, and those who stand in harm’s way now, to keep freedom for us all, let us pray,” he said. “Grant that we be ever mindful of their service to God and country, and to our comradeship with them in the ranks of the American Legion .… May the souls of our departed veterans rest in peace.”
Veterans at the ceremony assembled in the center of the Legion Park as the band played.
“Each of us has a purpose in our life,” Deacon Smith said. “Those who gave their lives for us so that we may have the freedoms we have this day, had their purpose. What is your purpose going to be, after this celebration, this day? What will your life be like? We know one thing, with God’s help, we try to create a life you just can’t wait to begin.”
Bill Payne’s music group, Veterans in a New Field, performed a selection of songs written for and about the armed services at Post 72 on June 2.