The Saugerties American Legion holds its Memorial Day service on the actual day, May 30. But due to inclement weather, the activities were moved inside the Lamouree-Hackett Post #72 dining room, which was standing-room only.
The program was moving. Memorial Day honors the soldiers who died in service for their country. Beginning in individual towns and cities shortly after the Civil War, the day was first known as Decoration Day, the day when citizens placed flowers and flags on the graves of soldiers who had died in wars. Ceremonies came to be held on May 30 by tradition, but in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which set Memorial Day as the last Monday in May.
Past commander Jim Gage served as master of ceremonies. Deacon Hank Smith offered an opening prayer: “For all those who had given their lives, for their families and so that we may have the freedoms that we have at this moment.” He asked blessings on “all those who have served, and for those who continue to serve, especially on this day.”
Commander Warren Whitaker reminded the attendees that the day commemorates “those who paid the ultimate price and never came home. We must never forget them.” However, he said, it is also important to honor those veterans who came home with visible wounds and also those who came home with invisible wounds, “and these are the ones who are possible for suicide. If any of you, if anybody knows of a veteran and they are acting out of character, please send them to the VA [Veterans Affairs Department]. There is qualified help there.” Whitaker said there are 6,000 veterans in Ulster County, but only 1,600 are getting help.
Whitaker thanked Saugerties Town Clerk Lisa Stanley, Supervisor Fred Costello and the Town Board for supplying the veterans with the flags to decorate the graves of 3,026 veterans in Saugerties. He also thanked Mayor Bill Murphy and the Village Board for including the veterans’ organization in next year’s budget. He thanked Ulster County and Frank Reggero of the Ulster County Veterans Service for his help in obtaining grave markers. He thanked the Veterans of Foreign Wars for flowers and the Sons of Post 72 for hanging flowers outside the Post. He thanked the Ladies’ Auxiliary for their support. He finished by naming the 13 cemeteries in the town.
“If we had better weather, we would ask the Auxiliary to place a wreath at the monument of the unknown,” Gage said. He asked the Auxiliary Vice President Eleanor Sawchuck and poppy girl Harley Ryder to place a wreath at an indoor monument.
Gage presented five American Legion scholarship winners with their awards and checks. They included: Kimberly Bartels, Christine Collins, Alex Mores, Nejla Reggero and Jillian Murphy. Ladies Auxiliary President Cynthia Babb presented the American Legion Auxiliary awards to Jaydon Williams and Anthony DeSilva.
American Legion Chaplain Paul Peyser thanked the students at Grant D. Morse School for a poppy wreath before offering a prayer. The poppies commemorate Memorial Day, Peyser said. “These poppies grew on the battlefield after World War I ended. They are significant this year because it is the centennial for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is ‘here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.’ On October 24, 1921, a soldier buried in France was brought home to America on the USS Olympia. He became the first unknown soldier.” Peyser concluded with a prayer from the Paralyzed Veterans of America. “They answered their country’s call to arms, in the battle they did go. Where their final destination was no one will ever know. May they find their resting place under some unknown sod; be forever hallowed, for it is known only to God.”
Gage then read the names of soldiers who have died in all the wars this country fought.
As the Saugerties Community Band, which had performed a number of pieces throughout the day, played the theme songs of the various services, veterans of each of those services gathered at the center of the room.
The program concluded with a benediction from Deacon Smith and the firing of a salute from the post firing squad, the only outdoor part of the day’s activities.