MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Members of St. Johnsville American Legion Post 168 kicked off Memorial Day celebrations across the tri-village area Monday with a 7:45 a.m. lowering of the American flag at the group’s downtown headquarters, followed by a ceremony at the village’s bridge over the Mohawk River.
After a visit to the Civil War Monument in Library Park, legion members — accompanied by St. Johnsville Fire Department vehicles — marched to Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park for a small ceremony.
Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School graduate Amethyst Scherer started the ceremony with a performance of the National Anthem. Following a 21-gun salute and reading of names of legion members who passed since the last Memorial Day event, the ceremony concluded with the symbolic planting of a White Oak tree.
The tree — which was planted by WWII veteran Joe Mastracco, Korean War veteran Pete Manikas, and Vietnam War veteran Joe Patterson — was acquired by the Friends of St. Johnsville, which held a 100th anniversary celebration of Soldiers and Sailors Park at the same location Saturday.
Robert Smith, a member of the Friends of St. Johnsville, said oak leaves and acorns have been a symbol of valor, resilience, courage, honor and permanence since Roman times.”
“It’s fitting that we gather today to witness the planting of this White Oak tree,” he said.
While Canajoharie’s annual Memorial Day Service is usually held at the Church of the Good Shepard on East Hill, this year it was moved to the spacious Upstate Chapel on West Hill overlooking the village. The Memorial Day service Monday featured speakers, group sing-a-longs of hymns and patriotic songs, a reading of the Gettysburg Address by Canajoharie High School Salutatorian Matthew Ehle, and a free-will offering to raise money for the training of a service dog.
Reflecting on the fact that last year’s community Memorial Day service was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pastor Virginia Ogden commented at the outset of Monday’s revived event, “It was so painful not to have this last year.”
Guest speaker, veteran and Pastor Larry Alkinburgh, said Memorial Day events are needed, as it is important people remember the past, and honor those who gave their lives in service.
“It’s important for us, as individuals, to remember the importance of the liberty we’ve been given,” by the nation’s military men and women, he said.
At the conclusion of the gathering at Upstate Chapel, members of Canajoharie Boy Scout Troop 81 read patriotic pieces while honorably retiring a United States flag by cutting it into 13 stripes, leaving the blue, star-spangled field intact. The pieces were then gathered and buried.
Following various ceremonies led by Mohawk Valley VFW Post 3275 Monday throughout the Fort Plain Cemetery and village, dozens of community members attended a first-time Memorial Day gathering in Haslett Park.
Though Monday morning was, as Fort Plain Mayor Mark Nearbin put it, a “rainy, windy upstate New York day,” that didn’t stop area residents from coming out to honor veterans.
The newly-created event replaced the usual village celebration, a parade.
Monday’s Haslett Park ceremony featured musical performances by young locals, readings of famous poems and patriotic pieces, speeches by Mayor Mark Nearbin and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, a reading of the names of local deceased veterans, and two 21-gun salutes, provided by VFW Post 3275 Memorial Squad/Honor Guard and the First Tryon County Militia.
Nearbin said at the ceremony’s outset, “A veteran is someone who, at one point, wrote a blank check payable to the United States for an amount up to and including their life.”
“Today, we’re here to recognize our veterans who have gone and those who still remain,” he said. “You gave your strength, your youth and your time doing a job that not many are willing to do.”