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ON THE SCENE: Town of Keene honors everyone Memorial Day

June 2, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Not everyone who served in the military or gave their life in defense of our country did so in a major war. Therefore, this Memorial Day, the Keene American Legion Post 1312 dedicated a new memorial stone to those who served in the military peacetime and such conflicts as the Cold War, Grenada, Panama, and Somalia. Thus far, nearly two dozen residents of Keene meet that standard.

Held under an overcast sky with light rain, it was a wet, drizzly, dreary day that did not dampen the turnout for the Memorial Day service or the emotions expressed.

For World War II veteran Brad Bradbury, it turned out to be the first service he attended, a decision made at the urging of his friend Andy Derr, who served as a member of the flag honor guard and whose service included being called up for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

Article Photos

Tom Both, commander of American Legion Post 1312 of Keene, salutes the flag.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"I'm glad I brought Brad," said Derr. "I brought him to several meetings for the American Legion at the firehouse. That's how I learned that he had never attended a Memorial Day service, so I invited him. He's a good pal of mine."

"I trained to fly P-40's," said Brad. "I was all ready to ship out, and then the war ended. I'm glad I came. The service was very moving. I plan to come again."

"I served in a MASH outfit in Korea in 1952," said Harold Wessman. "I like coming to these events and visiting with some friends. I wasn't too happy when I was called up for service, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I got to see a lot of the world, a part that I hadn't planned on visiting. I went the whole length of the big island in Japan by train. I went right past where the bombs fell. That was emotional."

The service was held at the Keene Memorial Park located adjacent to Norton Cemetery at the junction of routes 9N and 73, with access off 9N. The park features monuments with attached plaques to the American Revolution and War of 1812, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and now Peacetime.

Town Councilman Paul Martin has been the visionary behind creating the park, an effort that many others have joining in over the years.

The roots of the idea go back to when Martin was 5 and 6 years old living on Staten Island, this during WWII. Most of the troops shipped overseas bivouacked on the island before departing overseas. Young Paul was captivated by the soldiers marching to the troop ships with flags waving and a blaring band.

"I remember watching that and my mother and everybody crying," said Martin. "Of course, I was very impressed. After I would go home and march around the room with a broomstick."

Another experience that stuck in his mind was visiting Hero Park dedicated to the 144 Staten Island soldiers who died during WWI, a dedication that featured a bronze plaque attached to a large boulder. When he was still young, they moved to Keene Valley, where his grandparents lived. Then an honor roll was kept for those who served in WWII on a sign located on the lawn that's now in front of the Nature Conservancy. For many years he thought the town should have a dedicated park like the one he remembered from his youth; one for those who had served in all the wars, such as his great-grandfather, who was a doctor in the Civil War.

"Originally, I thought is should be located at the confluence of Johns Brook and the Ausable River, now known as Point Park," said Paul. "I thought that would make a great Hero Park. So I talked with Jerry Hall, who then owned the property. I said since you can't build on it, just give it to the town of Keene and get it off your tax assessment. He said, we'll do it, but he passed before that happened."

Martin pursued his idea through a convoluted series of land swaps and efforts to get state funding for a new town garage that stretched over the terms of three town supervisors. Alternate locations included Marcy Field and high up on the knoll near the top of Norton Cemetery before the current located was acquired, a plan envisioned, and a fund drive launched for the memorial stones, plaques, and landscaping. As for his thoughts about the final location, Paul describes it as "perfect." All who attended the service Monday, May 29 would heartily agree.

The criteria for being listed on the plaques is either having been born in Keene, gone to school in Keene, buried here, or owned property. Many listed who fought in the War of 1812 were residents of Lake Placid/North Elba, as then those communities were part of Keene.

A monument is not yet in place for the Gulf Wars though space for it has been set aside.

The Peace Memorial developed out of a discussion by members of the Post 1312 on how best to honor those who served during those times between wars or in smaller conflicts.

"The people who served gave at times a large portion of their lives," said Post Commander Tom Both. "We thought they made a contribution as well and deserved to be recognized. We plan to put up a monument to the Gulf Wars, but they are not over yet. We may put a temporary plaque on it to show those who have served already."

"It's amazing how many people came out on such a wet, cold day," said town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. "It underscores just how important it is to honor those who were willing to risk their lives in defense of our nation and to ensure that Keene and indeed the United States remains such a wonderful place to live."

"We were very pleased with the turnout," said Both. "We didn't know what to expect because of the weather.

Four veterans who died in the past year were honored by the placement of four empty chairs, three of the four featuring a hat of the person departed. They were Brett Lawrence, Jim McDonough, Brian Dixon and Scott Scoville.



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