SCHENECTADY — Veterans, local officials and community members gathered at Schenectady’s Vale Cemetery Monday morning to remember the lives lost fighting for the United States.
“Today is Memorial Day, it’s not about the parties, hot dogs and hamburgers and stuff like that,” said Commander George Sykala, the annual Memorial Day event’s master of ceremonies. “It’s about all the people that we have lost, all the soldiers that we have lost through the years. According to what I have here, we have lost 1.3 million people fighting for America, 1.3 million. We have 41 million people who have served our country.”
The ceremony included a wreath presentation ceremony, during which 13 wreaths representing different veteran groups lined the road along which the ceremony took place. The group representing each wreath was named, and then the wreath was carried over and placed in front of an American flag and color guard.
Memorial Day was originally known as “Decoration Day.” It began following the Civil War and became a federal holiday in 1971.
The lives lost should not only be remembered on Memorial Day, but everyday, Sykala said.
Retired Air Force Major Deborah Vincent Tarpening of the 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squad, who served 20 years, delivered the ceremony’s main address. She said she doesn’t typically speak at such events, but was there as a favor to her uncle, a retired Vietnam veteran at a graduation in Texas.
“I don’t like to speak at ceremonies like this, because I wish there was never a need for Memorial Day,” Tarpening said. “I have very mixed feelings about war, but we all know there’s reasons for them and I am proud and honored to take the time today to pay homage to those who lost their lives fighting for our country.”
The earliest Memorial Day celebrations were held as a grassroots effort in 1865, according to Tarpening.
“People realized, freedom is not free,” she said. “It comes at a great cost. It is paid for with the lives of our sons, our daughters, our wives, our husbands, our children, our friends, our relatives.”
Tarpening shared a story about her cousin, who enlisted in the Army in 1967 during the Vietnam War. She said her cousin was wounded, and sent to Japan for recovery. At that time, he was allowed to return home to New York, but he decided to go back to Vietnam to be with his military family. He was killed in action, saving the lives of other soldiers, and was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery, she said.
“May God bless our fallen, their families, and the people currently wearing the uniform all over the world,” Tarpening said.
Tarpening traveled to numerous countries all over the world during her time enlisted. She said, in all of her 20 years, seven months and 17 days, she never once met anyone who wanted war.
“People want to live in peace,” Tarpening said. “May God bless us with the courage and the wisdom to demand that our representatives strive for world peace, and be successful in that mission, and may God bless America.”
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy read a Memorial Day proclamation from the city. He thanked those who organized the ceremony, and said the ceremony is always done with a sense of dignity and honor.
“We must honor the courage and valor of veterans of past wars and current who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving this nation,” McCarthy said.