The small American flags stood in the right spots Monday morning at Schenectady’s Vale Cemetery.
They marked the graves of people like Harman M. Vrooman and John W. Snow, who fought long ago in far away lands. They stood near the stones of Garrett H. VanderVeer, Rodney R. Willis and Clarence H. Jackson, who answered the call for their country when the world went to war.
People also stood in the right spots Monday, as they observed a solemn tradition during Schenectady’s annual Memorial Day service at Vale.
They listened to Lenny Porcaro, past American Legion commander, sing the National Anthem. They said the Pledge of Allegiance along with longtime veterans’ advocate Jim Wilson.
Eleven multi-colored floral wreathes were placed near graves. Three men lifted rifles to the air and sounded off three times each. Scouts and high school cadets participated in the service, walking with veterans.
“More than 1.1 million men and women have died in wartime throughout the span of our nation’s history,” said William Frank, an Army veteran and Schenectady County Veterans Director, who gave the main address.
“To put that in perspective,” Frank continued, “that’s more than the population of San Francisco, Boston, Seattle or Washington, D.C. In fact, more people were killed in World War II alone than currently live in the city of New Orleans.”
Frank’s figures did not include men and women wounded or missing during wartime. “That number is closer to 2.8 million,” he said.
Frank said the numbers should be humbling.
“They represent people, individuals, who were brothers, husbands, mothers, sisters and friends,” he said. “They were people woven into the fabric of communities across the nation. They were loved, they were mourned. They were and are missed.”
Frank talked about families who have received telegrams, phone calls in the middle of the night, personal visits from service chaplains — all reporting news that loved ones have been lost.
“Memorial Day is a chance to reconnect to the genesis of our nation’s numerous freedoms,” Frank said. “It is an important day on which we ground ourselves to the reality that every Gold Star family knows — our way of life has been shaped and made possible by those who have served and by those who were lost.
“I would encourage you to get to know those stories within your own families and communities. I think you’ll be amazed at the stories of true valor you will find.”
About 75 people attended the 30-minute service, held under cloudless skies with plenty of sunlight. “Taps” was played by trumpeters Dr. Donald Liebers and Henry Liebers.
“I think it’s important for any veterans to be here, for every veteran to be here,” said Jayne Thompson, a retired Air Force master sergeant and current aerospace science instructor at Schenectady High School, where she conducts the school’s Air Force Junior ROTC program. “I think commemorating Memorial Day is more than just having a national holiday.”
Anmari Singh Goutam, 16, a program cadet, believes in the meaning of Memorial Day. “They did a great job for their country,” she said.
Added cadet Omesh Ramoatar, also 16: “It’s important to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said, “for all of us who are here today.”
Most people who attended the Vale service also attended the traditional service that follows at Veterans Park on State Street. Wreaths were once again presented; names of all veterans who have died since last May were read, each name accompanied by the ringing of a bell.
Rotterdam’s Bob Serotta, an Army veteran and commander of the town’s Lt. Vibert O. Fryer chapter of the Disabled American Veterans, was among the veterans offering salutes.
“I have two high school buddies who lost their lives in Vietnam,” he said. “I’m fortunate. A lot of the veterans who came here today are fortunate.”
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]