Saratoga County

Saratoga National Cemetery prepared for Memorial Day after much hard work

'We need to go out and realign all those headstones; and we have to keep them clean'
Patriot Guard Riders help place flags at graves for Memorial Day at Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery on Saturday.
Patriot Guard Riders help place flags at graves for Memorial Day at Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery on Saturday.

Scott Lamb drove his golf cart past the two new bluebird boxes — and a couple bluebirds — at Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.

It’s one sign spring has arrived on the grounds of the Stillwater cemetery, the final resting place for thousands of U.S. service personnel, their spouses and, in some cases, their children.

Small American flags on green lawns are other signs. Cemetery director Lamb said Memorial Day is the busiest time of the year at Solomon.

“We’re coming out of the spring and trying to make repairs to the grave sites and all of our winter graves that took place through the winter,” said  Lamb, who added that sodding and seeding work is suspended in November. “As soon as spring breaks and the ground temperatures get to where they need to be, we need to get all that done.

“And let’s face it, it’s Memorial Day,” Lamb added. “It takes us months to prepare for that.”

For the past several weeks, the 14-person field crew has been mowing and trimming grass around more than 18,000 graves in the 351-acre cemetery. Stone markers have been adjusted and cleaned.

This year’s memorial service at Solomon will begin at 11 a.m. on Monday. Flags have been placed at every grave site and near each four unit “column” in the columbarium section. 

On a recent Friday afternoon, a hearse led a line of cars through the cemetery’s front gates off Duell Road and onto the flag-lined road into the quiet, green park. It was the 13th, and final, service of the day; Lamb said 1,500 services are held at the cemetery each year.

The cemetery opened in 1999. It was renamed Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery in 2002, after the New York congressman who was well known as a champion of veterans’ causes.

The cemetery is New York state’s sixth national veterans cemetery and the 116th in the National Cemetery Administration. Lamb said many veterans do not realize they can be buried at Solomon, as long as they have served in the armed forces and have received an honorable discharge. Once through the gates, there is no charge to the surviving family.

Lamb said plenty of work goes on behind the scenes to put the cemetery in May’s green condition — especially this year, with a chilly April delaying some work.

“Our headstones are 18 inches deep and the frost can go 2 feet deep, so the headstones move every year,” Lamb said. “We need to go out and realign all those headstones. And we have to keep them clean. People don’t realize that too much moss and algae, all that other stuff in the shaded sections, we have to clean those off.”

The cemetery is open from dawn until dusk. Lamb said there has never been a problem with late-comers or people showing up after hours, probably because of the grounds’ rural location.

He added that joggers and cyclists, looking for quiet places to exercise, have never been problems. Lamb said if such athletes did appear, they would be told that the area is not the proper place for a running or biking route.

Rifle reports are heard every weekday. Solomon has an Honor Guard Association, which consists of five squads of 12 to 18 volunteers in each group. A rifle salute, flag presentation and the playing of taps are all on the duty list for each service.

Some graves are decorated with artificial flowers, which are allowed. People will leave stones or coins on grave stones. Sometimes, the yard crew will pick up an empty bottle of beer near a grave, left by a visitor who has toasted a fallen friend.

While some people gather for services, others come to the cemetery to visit graves of three Medal of Honor winners. They are:

— Army Sgt. Thomas A. Baker, whose unit was attacked from three sides by Japanese forces at Saipan on July 7, 1944. Baker was seriously wounded during the attack, and, at his request, was left sitting against a small tree with only a pistol and eight rounds of ammunition. Baker’s body was later found, in the same seated position, with eight Japanese soldiers lying dead before him (Baker was transferred from a grave site in Hawaii).

— Army Technical Sgt. Peter J. Dalessandro, who saved U.S. soldiers in a one-man assault on German forces near Kalterherberg, Germany on Dec. 22, 1944. As German forces moved toward Dalessandro, he called for mortar barrages on his position and saved his company from complete rout.

— Army Specialist Raymond R. Wright, who armed with a rifle and grenades and in the company of another soldier, killed enemy soldiers in bunkers during bold charges in Vietnam on May 2, 1967. The two-man assault drove an enemy platoon from a well-prepared position; Wright eventually returned to his unit; he was interred on Sept. 30, 1999.

Others buried at the cemetery include:

— Timothy Pratt, a state trooper and Air Force veteran who was killed in the line of duty in 2016 when he was struck by a car on Ballard Road in Wilton.

— Joseph Longobardo, a state trooper and a member of the New York Air National Guard who was killed in the line of duty in 2006.

— A Civil War veteran, whose remains found at battle site Antietam (in Maryland) included a “NY” insignia on a recovered button, is Solomon’s only unknown soldier.

Others visit loved ones. Army veteran Elmer J. Burt of Halfmoon was at the cemetery recently to visit the grave of his wife Anne, who died in 2011.

“I come every week, sometimes twice a week,” Burt said. “I stay maybe 45 minutes to an hour. I talk to her, I’m not afraid to admit it.”

Some people bring picnic lunches to the columbarium area, and read inscriptions on stone plaques covering niches where urns are stored. “Gone fishing,” “Semper Fi,” “Go Irish,” “Up periscope” and “I’ll be on the porch” are just a few.

The cemetery is also known for its monuments. They include:

— The ship’s bell from the USS Saratoga, installed as a memorial in 1999. The Saratoga, launched in 1925, spent 20 years at sea and saw action during World War II.

— An American gray granite memorial was erected in 2001 to honor veterans from Saratoga County.

— A pyramidal black-mist granite memorial for Solomon was erected in 2002.

— A granite and bronze memorial was erected in honor of U.S. submariner veterans on Oct. 19, 2002.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].


Categories: Life and Arts, News, Schenectady County

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