NISKAYUNA -- After Niskayuna High School senior Matt Cutting graduates next month, he will head to Norwich University on an ROTC scholarship – four of his classmates have also set themselves on military paths.
More than 50 years ago, a different Niskayuna graduate went off to Norwich before shipping off to serve in the Vietnam War. Vernon Hovey, a 1964 Niskayuna graduate, died when his helicopter was shot down in South Vietnam.
Cutting, who called serving in the military “the greatest honor as an American,” said his connection to Hovey came as a surprise.
“I kind of got chills up my spine,” Cutting said, after hearing Hovey's story Friday at the high school’s annual Memorial Day ceremony. “There are no other footsteps I would rather follow.”
Trevor Grigas, also a Niskayuna senior, is headed to Randolph Macon Preparatory School for a year before he plans to transition to the Air Force Academy in Colorado. He, Cutting and a couple dozen other Niskayuna students were joined at the ceremony by veterans and the classmates of Hovey and other Niskayuna alumni killed while fighting for America.
“It really makes me realize how thankful I should be and I am,” Grigas said. “It’s a great country with people willing to give up their lives for freedom.”
Paul Tracy, a classmate of Hovey and a fellow 1964 graduate, said he remembered driving Hovey to the airport before he was sent to Vietnam. Hovey’s family couldn’t bear to see him off, Tracy said.
Just four months later, Tracy was there to see Hovey return to the airport in a casket. Hovey was buried at Holy Redeemer Cemetery on the eve of his 24th birthday, Tracy said.
“Vern Hovey was our friend and neighbor,” Tracy said Friday at the ceremony, where he was joined by other graduates of the class of 1964 and Niskayuna veterans. “We grew up with Vern. We partied with Vern. We traveled the streets and the hallways with Vern. We graduated with Vern.”
Another classmate laid a wreath beside the school’s flagpole in honor of Hovey, just as others did for Niskayuna graduates from the classes of 1963 and 1965 who died in the Vietnam War.
The school has held its annual Memorial Day service the Friday before the holiday weekend for 26 years. Students read poems and sing songs at the ceremony.
Tracy said he was confident the students would carry on the tradition of recognizing veterans for generations to come.
“You’re the future that’s going to keep this tradition going,” Tracy told students gathered for the event. “I know you will do it with respect and pride, because these three students [who died in Vietnam] were classmates of Niskayuna High.”
“When you honor each other, you honor your parents -- you honor your teachers,” he continued. “You honor your school. You honor this community, and you honor the flag flying above my head.”