Whitehall Remembers toll of Wars

B y Derek Liebig

Scottie Stream, 39, and Tyler Parten, 24, aren’t from Whitehall and almost certainly never stepped foot in the community, but it didn’t stop Lieutenant Colonel Paul Somersall from evoking their names during Monday’s Memorial Day Ceremony.

Both were exemplary soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. And both lost their lives serving their country.

Stream, who served under Somersall, lost his life on February 24, 2009 in Kandahar Province. Parten, who graduated from West Point near the top of his class, was killed on Sept. 10, 2009. His body was found on top of one his sergeants. He had used himself as a shield to save the life of another soldier.

He was the brother of Col. Somersall’s son in law.

The emotion in his voice clearly audible, Somersall honored the memory of soldiers he’s served with and others he hasn’t.

“These men served with pride and honor so we can enjoy the freedoms our forefathers fought for,” Somersall told the crowd.

Somersall, a former commander of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion 105 Infantry regiment of the New York National Guard at the Whitehall Armory, was the keynote speaker of the annual Memorial Day Ceremony held in Riverside Park.

His address was the highlight of a touching ceremony that paid homage to soldiers from Whitehall and the country as a whole, who have lost their lives protecting the freedoms we hold most dear.

Under sunny skies and warm temperatures, Somersall reflected on his time in Whitehall, joking that Jim Lafayette was the first sergeant that made him deathly afraid.

He also thanked Gold Star Mother Catherine Aiken, assisting her as they placed a reef of flowers on top of the Veteran’s monument.

“You more than anyone, understand the cost of freedom,” he said.

Many of the people in attendance understood the cost of freedom all too well.

Jeanine Macura, who led the crowd in a rendition of “America the Beautiful,” said her husband had just returned to Afghanistan, Henry Gurney read off the names of Whitehall’s service men and women who died in armed conflict, some of whom people in the community remember well.

“27 soldiers from Whitehall died in World War II. 17 are still alive today,” Gurney said.

Mayor Peter Telisky, who regularly recognizes military personnel during Village Board meetings, evoked the words of General Patton and President John Kennedy as he spoke to the crowd.

“For those who have lost loved ones, Memorial Day isn’t just today, it’s every day. We are all the beneficiary of their acts,” he said.

Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon, a legionnaire himself, expressed gratitude and pride in for the opportunity to serve, reminding everyone Memorial Day isn’t about war, but about the honoring the lives of the fallen.

Students from the Elementary School even got in the mix, reciting poems and reciting “Flanders Fields.”

In all, a few hundred people showed up to support our troops, including some like Steve Mastrovich, who made the trip all the way from Boston to spend the day with his 90 year old father, a World War II veteran.

“For a small community they always put on a very nice ceremony,” he said.

Earlier in the day, veterans, public officials, rescue personnel, area Boy and Girl Scouts, and the High School marching band, paraded throughout the town, throwing candy to children, waving to bystanders and providing residents a little joy to a community that’s seen its fair share of heartache over the last few months.

But in the end, the day wasn’t about parades; it was about honoring those who have protected our right to have a parade.

“Memorial Day is about honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Somersall said.

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