LAKE PLACID - On Monday, May 26 about noon at the America Legion Post 326, Commander Zay Curtis welcomed a large crowd to celebrate Memorial Day and honor all those who have served and are currently serving in the military.
Earlier in the day, he joined Bob Marvin, Joe Galone, Gary Lawrence and Vic Roy, with Mike Shea playing taps, to lower flags that had been flying since Veterans Day - first for James Walsh, David Bickford and Richard McIntyre and then raising flags for Preston Bickford, Vernon Sawyer and my father, Jack Wikoff at the Adirondack Community Church, Adirondack Medical Center and the Uihlein Mercy Center.
At 11 a.m., led by a police car and honor guard, the annual Memorial Day parade started at One Main Street to march to the American Legion with flags flying, robust patriotic tunes performed by the Lake Placid High School band, and accompanied by members of the police, fire and rescue departments, boy and girl scouts, and as well as members of the Legion.
Capt. Jordanna Mallach and Bob Marvin fold a flag at the American Legion Monday, May 26. They also raised a flag to honor the photographer’s father, Jack Wikoff, at the Uihlein Mercy Center on Old Military Road.
(Photo — Naj Wikoff)
Groups of people lined the street, some larger near the Palace Theatre, Mids Park, Northwoods Inn and the post office, and sometimes it was a solitary runner who stopped to stand at attention or small groups with hands over their hearts.
"My thoughts are that it is a day that we should respect our veterans, and that's what the whole day should be about," said Bob Crowley standing along Main Street as he watched the procession pass. "The duty and service each of them gave us is worth a million dollars, and for the one's that didn't make it back, may they rest in peace."
I asked Marc Galvin, co-owner of the Bookstore Plus of this thoughts about Dr. George Hart, a veteran who served as the only surgeon on duty following a Japanese Banzai attack on Iwo Jima, a horrific experience hard to imagine. Hart -?the grandfather of Galvin's wife, Sarah - recently passed away.
"He never talked about it," said Galvin. "Some of the details of his service only recently came out. He kept a lot inside."
"Welcome all of you to our Memorial Day ceremonies to honor the service of veterans of all wars," said Curtis outside the Legion. "Today we remember the military men and women who died to defend our freedom and preserve our nation's heritage. We show our gratitude to those who gave their lives for us. We honor them for their courage and their loyalty to our country and all that it stands for."
Following Curtis, guest speaker Ted Blazer, president and CEO of ORDA, gave a moving and, at times, emotional address. He began by saying the gathering was to remember and honor the sacrifices made by veterans like Dr. Hart and many others, sacrifices difficult to comprehend and often gone unsaid. Blazer provided a brief history of Memorial Day, which began during the Civil War and was originally known as Decoration Day, established to provide friends and families of the fallen an annual moment to decorate their graves with flowers, flags and wreaths.
Blazer spoke of how he and his family first honored Memorial Day in the small hamlet where he grew up through participating in the annual parade, making special note of his father, who served three-and-a-half years in the South Pacific as a member of the 345th Bomber Group during World War II and was active in the planning of his community's annual event. He also spoke about the two annual commemorations held at Whiteface Mountain, one at the castle on the Memorial Highway and the other near the Base Lodge to honor members of the 10th Mountain Division that included participation by Fort Drum's band and many service members.
Blazer spoke of how the United States and it's military have fought across the globe to protect the welfare of humanity:
"As we stand here now under these three flags flying over us, we should reflect and remember everything that has gone into making us who we are and the privileges we share as a nation. Nowhere on this earth does the bell of freedom ring so loud and crisp. We are Americans, and because of those who have served our nation so valiantly, we proudly proclaim that we are the free and the brave. We have come to the aid of other nations across the globe for decades and they, too, recognize and respect us for this valor."
Blazer concluded by saluting the ongoing work of the American Legion and Lake Placid's post in particular for honoring and supporting veterans and their families.
Following Blazer and the lowering and raising of the flags, Dede Strack and Cheyenne Lledwith, laid a wreath at the memorial.
"I am very proud today because my dad and all four of his brothers are veterans, my brother is a Vietnam veteran, my nephew is a Gulf War veteran, and now my great niece is stationed at Pearl Harbor, so we have lots of generations in the military," Strack said later.
"It was an honor to receive a flag for my father," said Al Blinn. "The whole family appreciated it."
"I think it is a great honor," said Nancy Blinn. "It really is because these veterans do a lot for our country."
"Today is a moment to recognize all the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who have gone before me," said Capt. Jordanna Mallach, incoming commander of Post 326. "Veterans Day, I think, is focused on those of us still serving and Memorial Day more pays tribute to the things that I have earned on the backs of the different generations of veterans. I am acutely aware of that, and I feel that this day pays tribute to that."
On my way home, I stopped at AMC Uihlein. The honor guard, guests and residents who watched the ceremony were gone. Remaining was a single flag gently flapping in the breeze honoring my father. But truly, there are so many others who served in the 10th Mountain Division with him, in other theaters, and in other wars going back to the very beginning of our nation. Across the Old Military Road, others would soon gather to decorate the graves of veterans who, like him, signed up to defend the flag that represents us all.