Moving speeches and memorial wreaths pay homage to the sacrifices of the nation’s deceased servicemen and servicewomen
Even though the humidity was climbing and the May sun was mercilessly beating down in the late morning, it meant little to the throngs that turned out to support Floral Park’s Annual Memorial Day Parade and the subsequent memorial service held in Veterans Memorial Park.
Spearheaded by the Floral Park American Legion and the Inc. Village of Floral Park, the festivities found an assortment of village organizations turning out to participate. Among the community groups that marched were the Floral Park Lions Club, the American Legion Auxiliary, Wednesday Mother’s Club, Knights of Columbus and a variety of Boys Scout, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts. Also involved were congregations from the Floral Park United Methodist Church, Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church and Our Lady of Victory Church.
Vincent A DeMartino, a veteran of three wars-World War II, Korea and Vietnam—served as the grand marshal and highly decorated military veteran Lieutenant Colonel Alfred J. Mullen was chosen as a guest speaker. Once the time the processional reached Veterans Memorial Park, the Advancement of Colors was led by Sgt-at-Arms Ed LaChapelle followed by the Prisoner of War-Missing in Action remembrance led by past commander Joseph Reali with the invocation given by Father John O’Farrell of Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church.
Floral Park Mayor Tom Tweedy greeted attendees with the following words:
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen: On behalf of the village board, may I extend to you all our heartfelt welcome: to the American Legion Post 443, its members, our distinguished guests, our honored Gold Star families and to all veterans here with us today, allow me to extend our village’s deepest and most affectionate gratitude for your sacrifice and your service as we commemorate our honored dead on this Memorial Day.
“The celebration of this day has assumed a special and beautiful character. There are many legendary tales associated with the origin of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was first known back in 1868. One of its most interesting beginnings is attributed to the ladies of the South who, starting in 1866, decorated the graves of the fallen, Confederate and Union soldier alike. Perhaps the great words of Lincoln, ‘With malice towards none and charity to all,’ served as the inspiration for their compassionate acts. And while many feared that the angry passions that engendered civil strife would dominate those first celebrations, the very opposite was true. The prevailing sentiments were of kindness and charity, tender memories of the sacrifices of patriotism, the duty of caring for the living and avoiding all that might lead again to the sad necessity of war.
“So today, we once again pause, as we have for 144 years, to honor and pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. The bitter lesson of history is that freedom is never guaranteed and there will always be those who will object and meet with hostility, our constitutional belief in the inalienable rights of all people.
“I pray that one day men and women may not have to sacrifice against tyranny and injustice. History has shown us that civilizations do not succeed where there is not freedom and freedom does not exist without those willing to sacrifice to defend those freedoms. It is for them that we gather today; those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who with great courage and commitment, safeguard and protect the freedoms and liberties we enjoy each day. May God bless them, as He continues to bless America and this little corner of the world we know as Floral Park.”
Commander Jim McDonald introduced the ceremony’s guest, Lieutenant Colonel U.S. Army Reserve Alfred J. Mullen (retired). His speech was no less stirring:
“Honored guests, fellow veterans, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank Joe Reale and the American Legion for giving me the opportunity to participate in today’s Memorial Day ceremony.
“Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the saying, ‘Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.’ That saying, however, is untrue on two counts. First of all, old soldiers do die and so do young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, all too often in combat. Service members young and old, men and women, die defending our country and our way of life. They sometimes fight in unpopular wars, in far-away lands and carry the American flag and with it, the cherished ideals and values for which it stands. They do not serve for glory, or honor or fame; they go because the American people, including you and me, ask them to place themselves in harm’s way. In doing so, they leave family and friends and all too often sacrifice their lives.
“The second misconception is ‘that old soldiers just fade away.’ Our comrades don’t just fade away. In most cases, they are simply forgotten. Sadly, many Americans have forgotten the meaning and tradition of this day. There is a danger in letting the sacrifices made by those men and women fade from memory. We in this country owe a great debt to those who have given so much so that we could live free. It is a responsibility with which we are charged. That is to do our best to acknowledge what is owed to those who have presented us with our most precious gift—freedom.
“Freedom represents the heart and soul of America and that of all nations willing to fight for it. Yes, the price is steep, but freedom is never cheap. The freedoms that all of us enjoy were paid for with the flesh and blood of American servicemen and women and with the tears of those whose lives were changed forever by the loss of a loved one. Let us begin paying back by focusing our attention on the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“Memorial Day is an annual holiday, when all Americans, regardless of ideology, race, creed or political persuasion, join together to remember those who answered the nation’s call; it is also a day of opportunity to give thanks for all the blessings we have received. Memorial Day traces back to the Civil War when flowers were placed on the graves of fallen soldiers of both Union and Confederate armies. For that reason it was originally known as Decoration Day. On May 5, 1866, soon after the war, Henry Welles of Waterloo, NY, closed his drugstore and encouraged shopkeepers to follow suit and close for the day, as a symbol of healing and reconciliation to honor all those who died on both sides during the Civil War. This was the start of a tradition that was to carry on for many decades; of stores closing and communities gathering together in solemn ceremonies of remembrance. Sixteen years after Henry Welles closed his store, the nation observed the first official Memorial Day and as a matter of fact, in May 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, NY, the birthplace of Memorial Day.
“Today, the day is traditionally marked by parades, speeches and ceremonies; such as the observance at Arlington National Cemetery in our nation’s capital where a small American flag is placed on each grave and the president or vice-president gives a speech honoring the dead and lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Today, through technology, these ceremonies are accessible to the homebound as well. After World War I, Memorial Day became associated with the wearing of a read poppy, an idea that was originally conceived of by Moina Michael, who was inspired by the poem, ‘In Flanders Field’ and is still worn today as a symbol of remembrance for those who died in war.
“Why do we remember? Because through our remembrance, we give meaning to the sacrifice of those who died. Therefore, it is proper that we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. But in the same sense, while it is impossible for us to do anything or say anything, that can add to the honor they so nobly earned. It is our solemn responsibility to remember and to give thanks that when their nation called, they answered. Without the courage and valor of our nation’s veterans, values such as loyalty, duty, respect, honor and integrity, ones that have always made it possible for us to meet new challenges and move forward as a nation, would have been lost. As one WWII veteran so aptly put it, ‘America will only be the land of the free so long as it is the home of the brave.’
“As we reflect on the past, we must also look to the future as well. Our country will continue to rely on her sons and daughters to defend her liberty. In the years to come, more brave souls will be asked to put themselves in harm’s way to fight for our freedom. Today our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who now serve, because to honor our dead, we must also honor our living. In that regard we give special thanks to those brave men and women who continue to serve our country around the world and hope that all have a safe return and are reunited with their families, with special emphasis and with a special prayer for those who call Floral Park their home. On this special day of remembrance, let us keep in our head and minds the many wounded warriors who are recovering from their wounds in veteran’s hospitals and rehabilitation centers throughout our land.
“In closing, let me quote the world of the Greek author and historian Thucydides, that best describes our wounded warriors. ‘The brave are surely those who have the clear vision of what is before them, glory and danger, and yet notwithstanding, go out and meet it.’ Before we go our separate ways, let us pause to reflect on those who fought and gave their lives, including many from Floral Park and for those who willingly stand today to answer the call and assure them that their commitment to our nation’s freedom will never be forgotten.
“That, ladies and gentlemen, is the true meaning of Memorial Day.”