Tradition abounds at Saugerties American Legion Veterans Day observance

Members of American Legion Post 72 are joined by members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5034 [in shiny steel helmets] at the Veterans Day ceremony at the American Legion post. (Photos by David Gordon)

American Legion Post 72 past Commander Jim Gage speaks to the assembled company at the Veterans Day ceremony.

Monday, November 11 — Veterans Day — was clear and cold for the traditional ceremony at the Saugerties American Legion Post 72. In keeping with the tradition, the ceremony began at 11 a.m., the date and time the cease-fire ending World War I was signed: 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918.

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Jim Gage, a former post commander, acted as Master of Ceremonies and greeted the nearly 100 assembled service people, relatives and supporters. New this year was participation in the color guard of members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5034.

In his an address to the assembled company, Paul Peyser noted that Veterans Day honors all veterans; unlike Memorial Day it is not a remembrance of only those who gave their lives, but of all who served. The day was once known as Armistice Day, celebrating the end of World War I, but it has been expanded to remember all the veterans who served their country.

Peyser offered particular thanks to the many people who supported the post during its 100th anniversary year.

As has also been traditional in Post 72 celebrations of Veterans Day, Gage read a selection of poetry — a portion of an anonymous poem called A Veteran Died Today. “He was getting old and paunchy/ and his hair was falling out/ and he sat around the Legion/ telling stories of the past/ of a war that he had fought in/ and the deeds that he had done/ and his exploits with his buddies/ they were heroes every one,” the piece opens. The poem’s description is not flattering, describing his buddies as seeing him as “something of a joke, though they know whereof he spoke.” Though he was not famous or tremendously successful, “the world’s a little poorer, for a veteran died today.” The poem goes on to contrast the steadfast soldier with the grafter who is out only for himself. “If we cannot give him honor/ while he’s here to hear the praise/ then at least let’s give him homage/ at the ending of his days/ Perhaps just a simple headline/ in the paper that might say/ our country is in mourning/ for a veteran died today,” the poem concludes.

Deacon Hank Smith leads an opening prayer.

In his opening homily, Deacon Hank Smith of Saint Mary of the Snow — Saint Joseph Church asked that the attendees remember “the beautiful people who served, and gave us all the freedoms that we have and all the families that suffered under duress while they were away.”

Gaetana Ciarlante sang the Star Spangled Banner. In introducing her, Gage noted Ciarlante’s activity in veterans and servicemen’s causes — in particular the SOS program, which provides service people overseas with needed supplies and greetings from home.

Deacon Smith offered the closing prayer, starting with his admission that “to all those who served, I don’t know you. I wish I did.” After promising to pray for the unknown soldier’s safety, he says “I owe you for what you have missed in this life, and that you may feel God’s presence with you.” Smith concluded with a statement of thanks on behalf of the many people who are grateful for the sacrifice members of the military made for them.

The ceremony ended with three volleys from the firing squad, followed by taps played by Paul Peyser.

Following the meeting, Gage explained that the two posts — American Legion and VFW — have a close relationship, and in fact many veterans in Saugerties are members of both organizations, including Gage. However, this year was the first time the VFW has actively participated in the commemoration, he said.

Following the ceremony, the post museum was opened to the public — one of only a few days in the year when the museum is open. At other times, groups or individuals can arrange to visit the museum.

A firing squad fires a volley to close the ceremony.

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