About 50 motorcyclists paid tribute Sunday to the late Army Sgt. David Fisher, a 21-year-old Watervliet man who suffered an accidental death in the Iraq war in 2004, with a stop at his mother’s home.
The band of motorcyclists honored Gold Star Mother Vickie DeAugustine with a ceremony at her home, a stanza of the cross-country, 12th annual Tribute to Fallen Soldiers memorial torch motorcycle ride which began in Oregon.
Elsewhere in the Capital District, the cyclists stopped at the Rotterdam Elks lodge to commemorate fellow Gold Star Mother Jean Kirschenheiter, the mother of retired Army Sgt. Raymond W. Warlikowski Jr. of Melbourne, Fla, who has ties to Schenectady. The veteran of four tours in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars died after a battle with PTSD in 2016, after serving 20 years before his military retirement.
Warren Williamson of Brownsville, Ore., executive director of Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Northwest, called the stop at the DeAugustines “a beautiful setting to do one of our fallen soldier visits, right there on the lake.”
He added: “The family was incredible. They probably had close to 75 people there, just neighbors and friends. Even though they knew we were coming, which all families do, they were still incredibly grateful that this small group from Oregon came all the way across the country to honor their fallen service member.
“So it really was one of our best visits so far this year,” Williamson said.
Boaters on Saratoga Lake pulled up while holding American flags and waved to the cyclists, Williamson said.
“It was special.”
In an interview Saturday, DeAugustine said the tribute meant a lot to her and her family, which on Sunday included David’s father John J. Fisher, David’s siblings and other family members.
“It’s just a reminder that my son and our family and service members are not forgotten,” she said.
Fisher, who would have turned 37 in June, died when the Humvee in which he was riding as a gunner overturned during a high-speed defensive maneuver in Baghdad about a month after he arrived in Iraq.
Fisher grew up in Watervliet, where there are many tributes and memorials for him since his death 17 years ago. But this is the first tribute that’s taken place in Saratoga Springs, his mother said.
Asked how she’s been doing since the loss of her son, she said, “The simple truth, no, it does not get easier. It doesn’t go away. The pain doesn’t go away. The trauma of it doesn’t go away.
“You just, unfortunately, learn to live with what your life is like now, and a huge part of it is, of course, your family and your friends and the support that you have with that. It might sound odd, but David lives with us every single day. He’s still just as much a part of us.”
Fisher played football and basketball at Watervliet High School and enlisted in the Army National Guard after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The Army ruled his death an accident.
DeAugustine described her son as athletic, artistic and with a great sense of humor who cared tremendously about his siblings Danny, Andrea, Gabriella and Alexandra.
“He was just an all-around good kid,” she said.
Meanwhile, there’s no rest for the weary, as the cyclists were en route to Burlington, Vermont, for three fallen soldiers in that area Monday.
“Sunday was our 16th day on the road of 28 days, through 18 different states,” said Williamson.
The group is traveling about 5,000 miles to its destination of Arlington National Cemetery.
Including Fisher, the motorcyclists stopped at the homes of 75 fallen service members, Williamson said.
The organization has honored more than 900 fallen service members since Sept. 11, 2001.