Story by Lisa Rice
For the first time in the memory of many, Warwick’s Memorial Day parade was cancelled due to rain, and the services were moved to the Warwick Fire Department Station #1, located on Church St. off Forester Ave. It seemed ironic to cancel an event honoring the lives of men and women who served in all sorts of weather, and the irony wasn’t lost on VFW Commander Dan Burger.
“It really does mean a lot when people show up. Whether it’s rain, snow, sleet, hail, we do have veterans out there every day doing their part for the safety and security of our nation and the world at large. We have people wet and cold in some parts of the world and people hot and sweaty in other parts of the world. And it really is appropriate and we do thank everyone that is out here showing their support,” said Burger.
Walter Parkinson of the American Legion Post #214 kept the “abbreviated services” running smoothly in the host location as the crowd filled the bays of the firehouse. The invocation was delivered by Joseph Hildebrand of the American Legion and then Jerry Schacher read the honor roll of Warwick veterans who have passed away since last Memorial Day.
Troop 45 Boy Scout Joshua Koff was invited to read “The Gettysburg Address.” Before he began, Parkinson stated that Koff’s Eagle Scout project was to clean and refurbish the podium at the Warwick cemetery, where he should have done his recitation except for the rain.
Parkinson commented that they were at the cemetery earlier that morning and he did a great job. Koff is a graduating senior who will be attending Stonybrook University in the fall to study political science. He was followed by fellow Class of 2017 senior, Girl Scout Gold Award recipient Rebecca Garloch, who gave the history of Taps.
Parkinson then requested that all the scouts and children in attendance come to the front of the group. He had them look left and right at all the adults and told them they were looking at volunteers. He told them that everyone who had volunteered did it so that they would have the best opportunities they could have and challenged them to never forget that volunteering is its own reward.
The first local official to speak was Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton, who reminded everyone that Memorial Day is a day to honor the memories of the nearly one million Americans who lost their lives in service to our nation. He stated that the Town has had their share of sacrifices and there are flags honoring Warwick’s fallen sons and daughters in the Town Hall.
“It is our duty to be thankful for our freedom each and every day to ensure that our brave heroes have not died in vain. We ask that God Bless their souls and give comfort to their families to whom the pain of loss will always be with them,” said Sweeton.
Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard then spoke saying, “We remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our democracy. Today, friends and neighbors, we look around and see a peaceful land, this open valley, our queen village, protected by so many for so long and ultimately the place where our soldiers have been laid to rest. We open our hearts and remind ourselves of the decades of duty and service that has kept this crown.”
Mayor Newhard was then followed by Deputy Mayor and County Legislator Barry Cheney, who read a proclamation from Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney.
In a very poignant moment, Town of Warwick Justice Peter Barlet, whose parents are both deceased veterans, spoke of his recent visits to cemeteries and the peaceful feeling that those visits brought him in a time where hateful words and deeds are so prolific. He mentioned how members of this community recently sent messages of hate in the form of painted swastikas, and one couldn’t help but wonder how that act felt to the two World War II veterans in attendance, to men who fought against that symbol and the hatred it perpetrated.
Barlet then spoke of his parents and how he’d always believed they could be buried in Arlington National Cemetery (their wishes were to be buried in Warwick). He learned in 2015, after the death of veteran Elaine Harmon, that not all women could be buried at Arlington and that the Harmon family was denied privileges to have her ashes buried there. However, the original determination was overruled by a unanimous congressional vote and a law was signed by President Barack Obama that allowed Harmon to be buried in Arlington.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Dan Burger, President of the VFW Auxiliary Rachel Rivera and Vice Commander John MacDonald detailed the ceremonies that would be held later in the day at the graves of deceased VFW members, which includes laying wreaths.
Before closing the ceremony, Parkinson introduced the Grand Marshall, Frank Gilner, Commander of the Orange County American Legion, and acknowledged members of the Stewart family who have served as the Color Guard for the Warwick Memorial Day Parade for years, traveling from Oklahoma and Alabama.
VFW Chaplain Don Grenier gave the closing blessings, but not before Parkinson took the opportunity to give a little known background to the speaker. Grenier served in 54 combat missions in Korea, where he suffered a broken back when his plane was shot down. He recovered to pitch two years in the major leagues for the Washington Senators.