Schenectady County

July Fourth a party for vets

Christmas comes twice a year for the veterans living at the Stratton VA Medical Center.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Christmas comes twice a year for the veterans living at the Stratton VA Medical Center.

There’s Dec. 25, of course — and then there’s the Fourth of July, said World War II veteran Roland J. Babbitt.

“I look forward to it. It’s like Christmas, because my family is here,” he said.

Not only do families visit, but the whole hospital is decorated and volunteers host a party. There’s just one other day that gets that much attention — but Memorial Day has a far more solemn tone as veterans grieve for long-lost comrades. The Fourth of July is wholly celebratory.

Friday’s events at the hospital started with an indoor picnic, but many veterans headed outside with friends and family, delighting in the fact that this holiday can almost always be spent on the Center’s park-like grounds.

“I’m just soaking up the sun,” said World War II veteran Chris Calvano.

For him, the Fourth of July is doubly special — it’s also his birthday. A nurse promised to give him 90 kisses over the course of the day, one for every year of his life.

But even the beautiful weather and his birthday kisses couldn’t convince the retired Marine that the rest of the country was truly celebrating the birth of the country.

“I think we live in the greatest country in the world. The trouble is we don’t appreciate the goodness we have,” he said.

He urged listeners to truly live by the phrase “we the people” from the preamble of the Constitution. Right now, he said, people are living for themselves alone — spending money selfishly and ignoring the rest of the country.

Other veterans said they’re worried about the future of democracy as the war in Iraq continues, especially because one of the presidential candidates never served in the military.

“We’re thinking that if [Barack] Obama gets in, we’re in trouble. He wasn’t in the service,” said Korean War veteran Frank Incantalupo.

He spent much of the day thinking about the country’s founders, predicting that they’d be horrified if they saw what had happened to their “more perfect Union.”

“Do you think for one minute the guys who wrote the Constitution would’ve went for pornography, would’ve went for abortion? You know they wouldn’t,” he said. “And 99 percent of the politicians are crooked. If the masses knew the truth, there’d be another revolution tomorrow.”

But others focused on happier thoughts.

Babbitt, 92, handed out lollipops while his granddaughter Nicole Anzalone did handstands and cartwheels on the grass. His daughter and son-in-law had wheeled him outside so he could enjoy the nice weather.

He lectured Nicole on why the Fourth of July is special, but smiled when she said his company is more important to her than the holiday’s history.

“We always come to celebrate with him because it’s a special day to spend with our family,” she said.

Babbitt, who survived the Normandy Beach invasion despite being in the second wave, nodded.

“That’s right. Being with family,” he said. “That’s why I like the Fourth of July.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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