U.S. Army First Lt. Michael Costello visited Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna on Monday to remember people like Theodore A. Spring, Madeleine L. Murray and Howard T. O’Brien.
All three veterans served their country in times of crisis — Spring in World War I, Murray in World War II, O’Brien during the Korean War. Every May, their graves inside the Route 7 cemetery are marked by small American flags — markers for Memorial Day.
“It has a deep place in my heart, knowing that someday I’ll be lucky enough to have someone put a flag down for me — a young soldier or someone — to remember me,” said Costello, 25, a Loudonville resident who recently returned from a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
A uniformed Costello and about 200 other people attended Most Holy Redeemer’s “Serving God and Country: A Memorial Day Salute to Our Heroes.” Other patriotic gatherings, with rifle salutes, pledges, wreaths and singing, took place at Schenectady’s Vale Cemetery and Veterans Park and several other locations around the region on Monday.
At Most Holy Redeemer, Mass was celebrated by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, held under a large, double-peaked white tent on a breezy, sunny, chilly morning.
Hubbard was grateful for people who came to the Memorial Day observance.
“It is said that it is the mark of a humane and civilized people that they remember their deceased,” Hubbard said during the 50-minute service. “Certainly, you do this par excellence today.”
Hubbard also spoke about the dignity, nobility and courage men and women have shown during the nation’s wars. “During these wars, many made the supreme sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “And others were physically disabled for the rest of their lives. Others did not endure any physical wounds but returned home with psychological wounds.”
He urged help and support for all veterans who have returned home after serving their country.
The Most Holy Redeemer program was part of a nationwide Memorial Day effort by the Catholic Cemetery Conference. One thousand Catholic cemeteries participated, each conducting early morning services.
“As Catholics, we always remember the deceased in our Mass, we believe in the communion of saints,” said Maureen McGuinness, the cemetery’s family services manager. “It’s very important on this day, Memorial Day, to remember those who served in the military who are buried in our cemetery.”
Albie Ferrucci, a Schenectady attorney and a Navy veteran of World War II, came to Most Holy Redeemer to support the program and veterans. He said it was an emotional day for him.
“People greet you and want to shake your hand for helping to make this country as great as it is,” Ferrucci said.
Monday was a day of reflection for others at Most Holy Redeemer.
“I think it makes us remember our veterans and what they’ve done for us and what they continue to do for us,” said Mark Brucker, 55, of Schenectady.
At Vale Cemetery in Schenectady, veterans along with city and county organizations placed floral wreaths near the flag pole and graves located in the veterans’ section. Boy Scouts placed poppies near stone markers; men and women in navy blue, red and gold garrison caps saluted the flag as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” were sung and taps was played.
Lt. Col. Matt LeClair of Stratton Air National Guard Base in Glenville quoted General John A. Logan, who talked about the first Decoration Day in 1868.
“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance,” LeClair said, repeating the earlier commands. “All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders.”
LeClair said those words remain relevant and important in 2013.
“The concepts of courage, sacrifice and devotion that inspired these brave and heroic service members have not lost any significance through the passage of space and time,” he said.
Frank Jeffes, 80, of Niskayuna, a veteran of the Korean War, spent much of the morning service with his hand raised to his temple in salute.
“We remember the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” said Jeffes, who attended the ceremony with his wife Leona, granddaughter Amanda and great-granddaughter Layla, 31⁄2. “It’s good to get together to see your old friends. ... Most of all, it’s just to remember what the day stands for.”
“I think we have to show the community we care,” added Leona Jeffes, who wore a red, white and blue eagle pin that her father — Navy man Robert A. Ashline — wore during World War II. “We cared when our loved ones went over; we cared when our loved ones came back. We have to keep that in mind. We have to be kind and caring.”
James Wilson, Navy veteran of World War II and past district commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said people should always remember. “The bottom line is, these people gave their lives,” Wilson said. “We just can’t forget.”
Henry Liebers is glad to remember. He has played taps on his trumpet at Vale for the past eight years and was among the trio that played the tribute on Monday.
“It’s just an important day,” said Liebers, 16, a junior at Schenectady High School. “It’s good to remember the veterans who have sacrificed themselves. I love doing this; I love being part of this ceremony. It has such meaning.”
Many of the people at Vale traveled down State Street for more ceremonies at Veterans Park. Names of local veterans who have passed away since last Memorial Day were read aloud. A bell chimed after each name.
Essays about Memorial Day were read. Aurembiaix Castillo-Tomas, 9. a fourth-grader at Zoller Elementary in Schenectady, was one of the winning writers. She appreciates veterans.
“They served our country,” she said. “They made our country what it is now.”
Barbara and Stanley Harris of Schenectady were awarded the American Legion Department of New York’s Red, White and Blue Award, an appreciation for treating the American flag with care and respect. The Harrises have kept a spotlight on their flag, which hangs under the front porch of their home on Eastern Parkway, for nearly 30 years.
Barbara Harris gave a short acceptance speech. “This award belongs to the red, white and blue,” she said.