Jim Yermas knelt down Sunday afternoon in the Town of Florida Veterans Park and shifted a paving stone engraved with the name of an old friend into a small, square void.
It slid down tight, like a key in a lock, flush with scores of other stones holding the names of other men and women.
“I knew Ed,” he said. “We grew up here together. We used to pal around.”
At a glance
Many other institutions across the Capital Region plan to honor those who served with a number of memorial services and events scheduled for today, Veterans Day. Among them:
• Albany’s 58th annual Veterans Day Parade will step off at 11 a.m. following the traditional parade route from Partridge Street, east on Central Avenue, continuing east on Washington Avenue to the state Capitol. The parade’s reviewing stand will be on the steps of the State Education
Building across from the Capitol.
• The College of Saint Rose in Albany will honor the service of all veterans and the sacrifices of their dependents with a flag-raising ceremony at 11 a.m. followed by a luncheon for the college’s veterans and their immediate families.
• The Schenectady County Community College Student Veterans Association and Students Activities Board will hold their annual Veterans Day ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Guest veterans, college officials, members of the SCCC chapter of the Student Veterans of America, as well as the staff from the college’s Veterans Affairs Office will come together on the Campus Quad to honor veterans by lowering the flag in the quad to half-staff.
• The annual Rotterdam Veterans Day service will be held at 2:30 p.m. rain or shine at the Town Hall Monument at Sunrise Boulevard.
• The USS Slater, a World War II destroyer-turned-museum moored on the Hudson River in Albany will break its usual Wednesday through Saturday schedule to offer tours on Veterans Day from 10 to 4 p.m.
Edward Steffek died in Vietnam in 1966 as a 19-year-old Marine. His memory was honored Sunday afternoon during an early Veterans Day ceremony.
The event drew a large crowd of local and regional leaders. State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, were there, along with U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. All called for greater care and honor for returning veterans.
“They were there for us,” Tkaczyk said. “When they come home, we need to be there for them.”
A group of soldiers in camouflage fatigues raised a 15-by-25-foot American flag as onlookers shivered in a break of cold sunlight.
Another group of local veterans fired an honorary 21-gun salute, barking “aim” and “fire” before the simultaneous shots and subsequent ringing of brass casings on paving stones.
The Town of Florida Veterans Park is relatively new. Park committee member Joe Inglese said last year’s Veterans Day ceremony was conducted around the flag pole because there was nothing else. But on Sunday, people gathered along looping paths of concrete and pavers, around a newly parked T-2C Buckeye military training jet and under a small pavilion.
Santabarbara, himself a veteran, stressed the importance of such places.
“Every year, we have services like this across the country,” he said, “It’s important we keep attending them.”
A lot has been done since ground was broken in December 2011. In the dead of that winter, a group of volunteers trucked 40,000 cubic yards of Schoharie Creek gravel to a ravine next to the Florida town barn on Fort Hunter Road. Much of the subsequent design and concrete was financed through the sale of memorial pavers. So far, roughly 175 have been installed, largely with the names of fallen soldiers and bought in their honor by loved ones.
Steffek’s stone is the first installed gratis.
“He was the first person from our area to die in Vietnam,” Inglese said.
He read from a January 1966 story in The Schenectady Gazette: “Details of his death were not given” it said.
Group members installed the stone themselves because Steffek’s parents and only sister have died and there are no other surviving relatives in the area.
Yermas, known locally as Jungle Jim, seemed the closest thing to family.
“Ed had this pond behind his house,” he said. “We used to go fishing back there. We used to ride our bikes around. You know, we grew up together here in Florida.”
Yermas was still in high school when Steffek was killed. Later that year, he graduated, was drafted and found himself manning the same post in Vietnam where his friend died. At the time, he didn’t really think much about his friend’s sacrifice.
“I was 19. I was thinking about other things,” he said.
Sunday, though, he found himself illustrating a contrast so common at Veterans Day memorials — one veteran honoring the engraved memory of another.
As the event ended, a cold, stiff wind kicked up and people walked hunched down in collars to their cars. As the crowd dispersed, the members of park committee struggled to pull down and fold the 375-square-foot flag, raising a much smaller one in its place.
“We got a 45 mph wind coming,” chairman Dan Wilson said. “That big flag would take someone off their feet.”