June 1, 2010
Honoring ‘what they gave’
Memorial Day ceremony in Courthouse Park pays tribute
A young man wearing Army fatigues placed a green wreath with flowers in front of the black World War I plaque on a wall in Courthouse Park Monday afternoon, as more than 100 people watched under a hot sun.
The plaque lists the names of all of the war veterans from Cortland County who died during World War I. Other parts of the wall feature plaques honoring the veterans who died in World War II and the Civil War, and the wall is surrounded by separate memorials honoring local veterans of the Vietnam War and the American Revolution.
After he set down the wreath, Staff Sgt. Phillip Crean, a soldier who is now working at the Army’s recruiting office on Main Street in the city, raised his right hand to his forehead and shot his arm forward toward the plaque. Heavy applause followed his salute.
The annual Memorial Day ceremony at Courthouse Park Monday honored members of the military who died during wartime.
Guest speaker Wayne Ford, a Cortland resident who served in the U.S. Army for 22 years and retired as a sergeant major of special forces in 2002, spoke about riding on a bus to a military post in Missouri in 1980 and wondering what he was doing there.
“Almost every part of me was saying go home,” he said. “I was not sure of my future, where I would be sent and for how long.”
Ford added that his drive to serve his country kept him on the bus. He said that while in training, he developed a bond with his fellow soldiers that he said is difficult to explain and learned many skills he would later use in the service.
“Unfortunately we are called upon by our nation too often to use those skills,” Ford said.
Ford told people in the audience to thank the military members who continue to serve.
“Thank the ones who continue to not get off that bus and to answer the call to arms,” he said.
Former city librarian Warren Eddy read aloud the names of 76 military veterans who resided in Cortland County and died between May 15, 2009, and May, 15 2010. There were 44 World War II veterans, 22 Korean War veterans, seven Vietnam War veterans and three Cold War veterans who had died.
Mike Dexter, a U.S. Navy veteran who led the ceremony, praised the veterans of World War II — the group that lost the most veterans within the past year.
“I have a special respect for those people who stepped forward from the greatest generation,” Dexter said of the World War II veterans.
Ron Rowe, a Homer resident who served in the Marine Corps in the 1950s and fought in the Korean War, attended the ceremony with his wife, Jane Rowe.
Ron Rowe said they attend every year “just to honor our fallen veterans.”
“It’s a good day, an enjoyable day. A day to remember and reflect,” he said after the ceremony.
“Ron was seriously wounded, and I’m just glad he didn’t pass with the others,” Jane Rowe said.
She pointed out that most of the people who attended the ceremony are senior citizens, but said she thinks younger people still honor the troops who have died in combat.
Many people lined the streets of Homer in February 2007 to honor Pfc. Shawn Falter, who was killed the previous month in the Iraq War, she said.
“People do care and do remember, and if they don’t come here I don’t think that’s something to say they don’t care. They really do,” she said.
After the ceremony, Crean, a native of Long Island, made his first visit to the Veterans of Foreign Wars post on Main Street, where a banquet was held. A ceremony was also held outside the VFW building at 10:30 a.m. before the noon ceremony at Courthouse Park.
Crean said the Memorial Day events made him think about members of his battalion who died while fighting in Afghanistan, people he met during training who died and veterans who died in previous wars.
“You think about anyone you ever ran into,” Crean said. “You always have to keep them in the back of your mind.”
Crean served in Afghanistan for nine months and in Iraq for 15 months. He said he might be asked to deploy again after he finishes his three-year assignment at the recruiting office, which began in January.
While in Afghanistan, Crean said a sergeant and a staff sergeant in his battalion died in combat — one from a gunshot and another from a grenade.
Crean said he took part in the ceremony because he wanted to honor those two men, as well as all of the other veterans who have given their lives.
“I love doing it,” he said inside the VFW on Main Street after the ceremony. “They (the veterans killed during wars) made a great sacrifice with what they did, so why not give a few hours of your day to honor what they gave?”
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