A poster of Sgt. Taylor Parke of Halfmoon, who died in 2007 after a car accident, was front and center in Halfmoon Town Hall on Tuesday morning at the start of the town's annual Yellow Ribbon Day events.
Booths and tables covered with information regarding local veterans services and other organizations lined the hallway, and all of the displays culminated in a ceremony that, among other things, paid homage to local soldiers who had either lost their lives in conflicts or were declared missing in action, and honoring the local organizations that work to provide relief to current troops, including the Blue Star Mothers of America.
The ceremony included a reading of the 59 names of local soldiers who died while serving in the military.
A large part of Yellow Ribbon Day comes directly from its namesake, which are the yellow ribbons that adorn locations in both Clifton Park and Halfmoon, as well as other areas in the Capital Region, starting in April.
The ribbons are the work of Carol Pingelski Hotaling, a Clifton Park resident who has been making the ribbons for 27 years, and has, on occasion, teamed up with other groups, including the Blue Star Mothers of America, to support both veterans and enlisted soldiers.
Hotaling’s ribbons can be found throughout southern Saratoga County, including Halfmoon, Ballston Spa, Malta and Saratoga Springs. Each year since 2006, New York state has proclaimed April 9 to be the state’s official Yellow Ribbon Day, largely the result of Hotaling's outreach and work.
The date of April 9 has significance. On April 9, 2004, Staff Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, was captured in Iraq, making him the Iraq War’s first prisoner of war. After his capture, his family established the Yellow Ribbon Support Center, which sent troops care packages along with photographs of Matt in the hope that spreading his story would help locate their son.
Row upon row of spectators gathered in Town Hall to attend the ceremony. The audience consisted of current service menbers, veterans, officials from both Clifton Park and Halfmoon, and parents who had lost their children to war.
At the front of the room was a small table with a dining setting for one, to symbolize both the presence, and absence, of soldiers who died while serving and could not attend the ceremony.
Seated in the front row at Tuesday morning's ceremony, Hotaling reiterated that the point of Yellow Ribbon Day is to both thank veterans for their service, but also remember those who aren't around to celebrate.
"It's about remembering our current troops," she said.
Halfmoon Supervisor Kevin Tollisen, who served as master of ceremonies during the event, took a moment in between speakers to acknowledge the strength that it takes for parents who are facing the most difficult times in their lives when they lose a child, to turn their grief into positive change, as the Gold Star Mothers do.
"They turn their grief into gold, and turn it into service to our community. How wonderful is that?" he asked the audience.
State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, who attend the ceremony, said Halfmoon is second to none in its efforts to honor veterans and active service members. She also thanked Hotaling.
"The Yellow Ribbon Lady ... thank you for all that you do. You are just relentless in your pursuit to make this happen," she said.
Town officials created a new park bench adorned with a commemorative plaque thanking Hotaling for her efforts in continuously organizing Yellow Ribbon Day.
"I can't just say thank you to one person, because you all made it happen," she said.