Woodstockers remember veterans of all wars

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

On a cold, sunny Sunday morning the old church bell in the kiosk at the Community Center tolled 11 times at the 11th hour of the 11th Day of the 11th month, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the World War I, The War to End All Wars (which, sadly, it wasn’t.) 

But about 70 Woodstockers convened at the Woodstock Cemetery to once more honor the veterans, and to remember those killed, not only in that war, but in all of our military endeavours. 

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“We served not for the want of war or to become heroes but rather for the preservation of a way of life to make sure that our loved ones never had to experience the horror and devastation of a war at home…” said the American Legion Post 1026 Commander Terry Breitenstein. “America always looks to the soldier in times of war. She rallies around him when the enemy is real. She pats him on the back when he or she ships out. But when the enemy has been defeated and the soldier comes home, possibly with physically and mentally destroyed that is when American needs to be there. That is when she has to prove her dedication and support to those men and women who bore the brunt of battle.”

The ceremony was familiar, yet deeply touching. After the Benediction, Post Vice Commander Don Haberski sang the National Anthem, and Carl Van Wagnen recited the poem, In Flanders Fields, written by John MacCrae, a Canadian army officer, in 1918. 

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Legion Post 1026 Vice Commander Don Haberski and Post Commander Terry Breitenstein.

Short poems were read by two young boys whom we hope never have to go to war, Colvin Vandebogart and Jack Longyear. Woodstock town supervisor Bill McKenna lauded the GI Bill of Rights, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt 70 years ago, and said, 

“I think President Roosevelt would be disheartened today to find that we have service men and women who returned to a grateful nation that forgets too soon…Our veterans are not asking to be a special class of citizens but only for a chance to share what all citizens enjoy. We as a nation owe this to them and we should call upon Albany and Washington to be more responsible for our veterans.”

As she has for many years, bagpiper Peigi Mulligan played Amazing Grace, her performance made more poignant by Breitenstein’s announcement of her retirement. Abbe Graber sang God Bless America, and former town supervisor Jeff Moran reminded local veterans to “please know how much we appreciate your service to our country and how proud we are to have you here in our community.”

Breitenstein followed, beseeching that “Public Honor must be given where public honor is due…not to the manipulator of the market, the seeker of profit, the vote, the power, the position. Let us translate the devotion of war to the devotion to peace. Let us all live, as well as die for this country, for it is the veteran who prays that the wars that he or she fought in would be the last…Let us not forget our departed comrades who gave their yesterdays so that we may have our tomorrows. All of us gave some, but some gave all.”

The ceremony concluded with a rifle salute to the veterans departed, and the solemnity of the bugle playing Taps. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

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