A large caravan of motorcycles, uniformed officers, US veterans, family members and residents made its way from Tech City in the Town of Ulster down Route 32 to the Ulster County Veterans’ Cemetery in New Paltz in honor of Memorial Day yesterday.
Blue skies illuminated the rows of American flags that lined the entrance to the cemetery off Plains Road on the banks of the Wallkill River, as well as the flags that were placed on each fallen veteran’s grave.
Before the motorcade arrived, one woman, Jennifer Menard Sheldon of Cottekill, was carefully cleaning off her father’s headstone before placing flowers on it. “He served during the Cuban Missile Crisis, was a fireman and in the Navy on the USS DeLong boat,” she said. “He died two years ago, July 9, 2018, the day after my birthday. We danced the night of my birthday. I miss him.” According to Sheldon, her father, Roger Menard, born in 1936, was an avid outdoorsman and fly fisherman. “He’s why we’re all here [in Ulster County], because of the woods. He loved it, and even wrote a book on fly fishing, My Side of the River.”
Jim Bracco and his wife, of the Town of Ulster, pulled up to the cemetery in their blue-and-white classic 1950s Ford Sunliner. Bracco served in the US Army from 1960 to 1966 and was stationed in Germany during the Berlin crisis. “It makes me feel good to be a part of this and to be out here showing our respect,” he said, as the couple got out of the car to stand silently along with the rest of the parade.
It was one of those bright, sunny late spring days saturated with the sweetness of honeysuckle and lilac blooms cascading through the valley. It was also a day that carried a certain weight – a knowing that so many souls who graced this Earth and who had shown up during the most difficult of times had left us. There was a muted sobriety that hung in the air as the motorcade filed in at approximately 1:30 p.m. led by the New Paltz Police Department, Ulster County Sheriff’s Department, American Legion motorcycle brigade, Veterans of Foreign Wars and others who wanted to pay their respects. People spread out like bulbs attached on a string of lights around the Veterans’ Cemetery as Kevin Keaveny, co-founder of the Hudson Valley Center for Veteran Reintegration, stepped towards the stone monument and flagpole.
“First of all, I want to thank you all for coming,” said Keaveny. “I want to especially thank the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Figueroa and the New Paltz Police Department, County Executive Pat Ryan, who all helped us to make this happen with just a few days’ notice. I do not have any of my loved ones buried here, but they are all my brothers and sisters. And this is a beautiful day to honor the fallen.” After a moment of silence, Keaveny was joined by Jillian Nadiak, who sang “America the Beautiful” a capella. That was followed by a rendition of “Taps” and slowly, people filed back to their vehicles.
John Liguori, superintendent of the cemetery, said that Cub Scouts from New Paltz had laid out all of the American flags and that a local Eagle Scout had installed all of the sleeves to hold them up alongside the veterans’ graves and throughout the central tree-lined allée.
“I’m so glad that we were able to do this and make it happen, because it’s so important to honor those residents who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Ryan, who was standing by his own vehicle, socially distant, but actively part of the proceedings. “And I’m so proud of the work that Kevin [Keaveny] is doing at the Center [for Veteran Reintegration]. They are such a great entity to have in our county.”
Almost as quickly as they arrived, the cars filed out again, driving back to those more private places where they could reflect on the souls in our soil, the stories that were shared, the battles fought and the human desire to nourish dignity and hydrate the spirits of those who passed in our country’s name.