Ceremony Remembers Those Buried At Fort Ontario

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OSWEGO – “We shall remember.”

Teresa Korbesmeyer places a wreath on one of the graves Saturday.
Teresa Korbesmeyer places a wreath on one of the graves Saturday.

Lt. Colonel Robert Ormsbee, US Air Force, Auxilary Fort Drum,  made that pledge Saturday to Lt. Basil Dunbar (1759) to S. Sgt. Robert T. McEwen (1943) and all the others in between that have been laid to rest in Fort Ontario’s Post Cemetery.

The Post Cemetery joined the effort to “Remember, Honor and Teach” as an official location of the national Wreaths Across America program Dec. 15.

The ceremony began at noon in front of the Enlisted Men’s Barracks inside the historic old stone fort with guest speakers.

Then, volunteers escorted the wreaths to the Post Cemetery where 77 officers, soldiers, and family members who served at Fort Ontario are buried. The wreaths were solemnly placed on the graves.

Picking out a wreath
Picking out a wreath

Every December, thousands of wreaths are escorted from Columbia Falls, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., for national Wreaths Across America Day by way of volunteer tractor trailer trucks.

This is the first time the fort has taken part in the national event, according to Corey King, a member of AmeriCosps, the fort historian who organized the ceremony.

“Our goal for Fort Ontario was to raise enough sponsorships to have 77 remembrance wreaths placed on the headstones of all the heroes laid to rest in the Post Cemetery. We have successfully reached that goal for this year, ensuring that the individuals who served to protect the freedoms of our country are never to be forgotten,” said King. However, as of Saturday they had received ony 45 wreaths and were hoping the second shipment would arrive soon.

Marching to the Post Cemetery
Marching to the Post Cemetery

This marks the first year that Fort Ontario has been included as a national Wreaths Across America site, Paul Lear, historic site manager, told the large crowd at the opening ceremony.

“It was Corey who broached the idea of participating in the National Wreaths Across America program. And that’s why we’re here today,” Lear said. “With the fort on its way to becoming a national park, this national wreaths program is most appropriate.”

King will finish up his book on the Post Cemetery and have it published in early 2019, he added.

Wreaths Adorn the veterans' graves.
Wreaths Adorn the veterans’ graves.

“Thank you to Corey and thank you to Paul Lear for putting this event together. It’s really an important event and I’m proud to be the mayor of Oswego, a community where we go out of our way as often as we possibly can thank, acknowledge and appreciate those who paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our nation and all of our veterans,” Mayor Billy Barlow said. “It is truly an honor just to be part of the community where we acknowledge our veterans on a regular basis.”

Before starting his remarks, Lt. Colonel Ormsbee, U.S. Air Force Auxilary 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, Fort Drum, asked for a moment of silence “for the fallen, the POWs, the MIA and all of those who have served and are serving this great nation.”

Wreaths Across America’s mission is to “Remember” (our fallen US veterans) – “Honor” (those who serve) – and “Teach” (our children the value of freedom).

“At 1,100 memorial sites like this one, we are gathered as one nation to remember, honor and teach. We are all proud to be Americans that live in a free society, made up of many people from many walks of life,” he said.

Saluting the veterans
Saluting the veterans

“The freedoms we enjoy today did not come without a price. Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this great nation, are the men and women who gave their lives so that we can be free and live without fear. We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free. We shall not forget you. We shall remember!”

Ormsbee encouraged the volunteer wreath placers to say the veteran’s name aloud and thank them for their service to America as they placed a wreath on the grave.

“It’s a small act that goes a long way toward keeping the memories of our veterans alive,” he said.

An undetermined number of offices, soldiers, civilians and Native Americans died at Fort Ontario from 1755 to 1814, King said.

Frontier grave-markers were usually constructed of wood and disappeared during periods of abandonment during the fort’s early history.

Consequently, the locations of cemeteries and individual burials associated with three earlier versions of Fort Ontario have mostly been lost to time.

When the fort was rebuilt (to as it is today) 1839 – 1844, the cemetery was established on the site of today’s main baseball diamond; then the site of an earlier burial ground.

A large crowd attended the ceremony inside the fort.
A large crowd attended the ceremony inside the fort.

In 1905, 30 bodies were removed and relocated to the current Post Cemetery site.

Several hundred other bodies, over the years, were shipped home to their families for burial.

Wreaths Across America

The goal of the organization is to lay a remembrance wreath over every veteran’s grave in the country and abroad.

Wreaths Across America is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees 179 state parks and 35 historic sites, which are visited by more than 60 million people annually.

Fort Ontario State Historic Site is located at the north end of East Fourth Street in the city Oswego.

For information, contact King at 315-343-4711.

Follow the Fort Ontario Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FortOntario.