B y Dan King
World War II Veterans, babies and every age group in between packed the streets of Whitehall on Monday for the annual Memorial Day parade and ceremony. Despite the threats of rain, the weather ultimately held off, allowing people to come out in masses and honor those who have served, both past and present.
The streets were lined in red, white and blue as war veterans, community organizations, students, the Whitehall Marching Band and many other groups paraded through the streets. As the members marched through town, throwing candy along their path, spectators watched attentively; while also enjoying the likes of cotton candy and snow cones.
Eventually, the parade concluded and the ceremony began, as scores of people poured into the park to watch the somber, yet celebratory ceremony. Jim Lafayette of the American Legion led the pledge of allegiance, followed by the Whitehall band playing the “Star Spangled Banner” and an opening prayer from Father Rendell Torres.
A multitude of speakers then made their way to the podium, for quite a few heartfelt speeches. The first remarks came from the Exalted Ruler of the Elks, Hillary Rozell.
Rozell made reference to the 25 stars next to names, on the town’s memorial. The stars that Rozell was referring to represent the 25 members of the Whitehall community who went abroad to defend this country and unfortunately never came back.
Rozell stated, “Those people paid the ultimate price to protect our freedom.”
Jim Lafayette went on to tell a few stories of the horrors of war and the beauty of returning home and becoming reunited with friends and family. Lafayette’s stories helped lift the mood and even drew some laughter from the large crowd.
The meaningful remarks continued to pour in, as a speech was given by Village Trustee Marge Mohn, a poem was read by first graders Presley Gosselin and Emily Lyng and then Lafayette explained that there would be no remarks from Town Supervisor George Armstrong, whose daughter was expecting a child. Next to speak was American Legion Auxiliary President, Barb Neddo.
“Too often we fail to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Neddo said, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness require the ultimate dedication.”
After the Whitehall Band performed their selection, guest speaker, William Kearsing took to the stage for a very thought-provoking speech.
Kearsing started by saying that “While we are supposed to honor those who passed away on Memorial Day, I cannot help but honor those who returned as well.”
Kearsing went on to make a political statement that resonated well with everyone in attendance, as he urged everyone to write their congress people about the failures of the Federal Department of Veteran’s Affairs to address issues faced by our returning troops.
“The biggest way we can honor our dead soldiers is by helping out their buddies who did return,” Kearsing said, “I urge you all to write your congressmen about the failures of the VA.”
After Kearsing spoke, Jeannine Macura sang a heartfelt song in honor of the deceased soldiers who fought for this country.
Perhaps the most emotional part of the ceremony was when Grand Marshal and World War II veteran, Henry Gurney, read the roll of those from Whitehall who had passed away or had gone missing during World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
You could feel the emotion spew from Gurney as he called the roll, especially when he got to the World War II section. Many of those who lost their lives in World War II were friends or acquaintances of Gurney and hearing the overwhelming emotion as he called their names made that quite evident.
The song “Amazing Grace” was performed by another Legionnaire, Bill “Bones” Jones, as Whitehall’s one Gold Star Mother, Catherine Aiken, was escorted to place a wreath on the memorial wall, in honor of her son. As she placed the wreath, there was a salute from the firing detail, while the Whitehall band played “Taps.”
Rev. Paul Shepherd concluded the ceremony with a brief, heartfelt prayer in honor of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice to defend out liberties.
As the ceremony concluded, the sun broke through the clouds and much of the crowd meandered over to the American Legion to celebrate with refreshments, while others went off to patriotically enjoy the beautiful weather in their own way.