After a lot of debate, Saratoga County’s “Honor Our Deceased Veterans” program will stick with honoring the late and great.
The Board of Supervisors’ Veterans Committee voted 4-3 Monday against a proposal that would have expanded the monthly program to honor living military veterans as well as those who have died.
The committee majority rejected a proposal committee Chairwoman Mary Ann Johnson, R-Day, made in July to change the program’s focus to including the living. The majority felt that honoring one living veteran over another would create hard feelings between people in a way that honoring deceased veterans hasn’t.
“They never argue when it’s a deceased veteran because it’s about honor and respect and the person has passed,” said Supervisor Patti Southworth, I-Ballston.
Joining Southworth in opposing the change were John Collyer, R-Providence; George Hargrave, R-Galway; and Richard Lucia, R-Corinth.
Johnson said she proposed the change to address a concern of small towns like her own, which sometimes haven’t been able to come up with a deceased veteran when it was their turn to nominate one.
“If some [town] doesn’t have a deceased veteran, they are eliminated from the program, and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said.
Since it was started in 1999, the monthly program has used the same criteria: a veteran must have been a local resident, have made post-service contributions to their community if they survived their military service and be deceased. Those honored have ranged from young men killed in combat to people whose later community service was more notable than their military time.
In practice, the county’s 19 towns and two cities have been taking turns offering someone to be honored, so each community is supposed to offer a name about every two years.
But tiny towns like Day and Edinburg in recent years have had a harder time producing names than places like Saratoga Springs or Mechanicville. That led to the proposal to expand the pool of candidates by including living veterans, Johnson said.
Edinburg has offered no deceased veteran in the past five years, and Day has been able to produce only one in that time. Johnson noted that simply providing a name isn’t enough: There has to be local family members available — and willing — to attend the ceremony and accept citations and medals.
Johnson also said she thinks it’s unfair to living veterans who have returned from war zones badly wounded. “I just don’t think a veteran should have to be deceased to be recognized,” she said.
Supervisors Edward Kinowski, R-Stillwater, and Tom Richardson, D-Mechanicville, voted with Johnson.
Retired county veterans services director Robert Mitchell opposed the change, noting that another part of the proposed criteria would have put new emphasis on combat service. The original criteria avoided that, since so many factors are beyond the individual’s control.
“You don’t have any say over where you serve,” he said.