FULTON, NY – Hundreds of people converged on Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Fulton Tuesday morning to honor and thank the men and women who have served this country during times of conflict and war.
The balmy fall morning began with coffee and donuts along with a generous helping of thanks and appreciation from the community, local dignitaries and elected officials for all veterans in the Municipal Center; the morning would end with all who had gathered holding hands and singing.
Garry Visconti, president of the Fulton Veterans Council, served as emcee for the 35-minute celebration of national pride and service to country which included the singing of patriotic songs, prayer, remembrance, hope for the future, a ‘three volley’ gun salute, and a lone bugler playing “Taps”.
The fire department’s ladder truck, parked in front of Veterans Memorial Park on West First Street, flew the American Flag aloft of the crowd.
“Who would think on the 11th day of November it would be almost 61 degrees in Fulton, New York?” Visconti said. “I thank every one of you for being here today to honor our veterans.”
To the chiming of the 11 o’clock bell, Father Mortiz Fuchs, a World War II veteran, recited the opening prayer.
Veteran of the Year Jim Weinhold, in his last duty as 2014 honoree, led the more than 200 people gathered in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Primed by the sunshine, and the warmth of the day and the crowd, invited singer Bonnie Fauler said, “For those of us who are not members of the Armed Forces, our hands go over our hearts. Please sing with me,” then gave a lovely a Capella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” accompanied by the voices of veterans, and civilian men, women and children.
Mayor Ron Woodward stepped to the podium to thank the community for taking time to reflect on the meaning of the day. “On behalf of myself, the Fulton Common Council, and the grateful residents of the city of Fulton, I thank all of you for your service and sacrifice,” the mayor said. “God bless all of you, and God bless the United States of America.”
Assemblyman Will Barclay took his opportunity at the podium to provide some perspective and remind the crowd of the origins of the day.
“It was originally called Armistice Day and it was to commemorate the end of World War I,” Barclay said. “The Armistice took effect at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson set aside the day to honor those who died during the conflict, and to honor our victory.”
Barclay explained that World War I was termed ‘the war to end all wars’ because the horror of fighting was so unparalleled that it was unthinkable that nations would ever take up arms again.
“As we all know … just one generation later the world was involved in World War II,” he said. “Because of the massive mobilization of forces in World War II, and again in Korea, President Eisenhower dedicated Veterans Day in 1954 as a day to remember all veterans. Armistice Day became Veterans Day.”
The assemblyman read the poem “It Is the Soldier” then in his closing remarks added, “We should never forget the sacrifices of our veterans. Our nation would not exist if not for the sacrifices of our veterans. Today, more than ever, please take time to thank a vet. It is my honor to be here. Thank you to all the veterans, thank you to the city of Fulton for putting this on, may God bless you all, honored veterans and the United States of America.”
Woodward, Fire and Police Commissioner, veteran Alan DeLine, along with a member of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary placed a wreath on the park’s monument dedicated to all the men and women of the community who gave their lives for democracy.
During his closing remarks, Visconti noted the Veterans Council has reached out to the Fulton middle school and elementary school administrators to provide educational opportunities for students with respect to the valuable life-knowledge veterans have to share.
“I think it’s really important that all our young people understand what all you veterans have done through the years to protect their rights,” Visconti said.
At times choked up with emotion, he relayed the recent passing of Battle of the Bulge veteran Harold Blake.
“As I reflect on his loss, I have thought a lot about the seasoned veterans we have … who have a lot to say about our history,” Visconti said. “We need to get the word to our children about the history of this country – everything these veterans have done so these children have the right to live in a free country.”
With that, Visconti commanded the Sargent of Guard to “perform his duties,” and the rapport of the three-volley gun salute reverberated across the river and through the downtown streets.
A lone bugler blew “Taps,” and Fr. Fuchs led those gathered in a closing prayer.
Then, in a tradition started last year, the entire community joined hands and sang “God Bless America” to the accompaniment of the flutter of flags flying overhead at half-staff in the midday breeze.
At a VFW luncheon following the morning celebration, John Young, an Air Force veteran who served from 1961 to 1965 – with some of that time in West Germany, was named Weinhold’s successor and 2015 Veteran of the Year.
The son of a World War II Marine Corps. vet, Young said when he was 18 he voluntarily joined the service.
At that time many others were also joining to fight for this country, and some were called up by the draft.
While people enter military service for different reasons and come away from the experience with different life changes, Young said, “It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
He added that it was important to note that today this country has all volunteer services. “We’ve got some of the best of America in the services now – some of the most intelligent young guys and girls. They’re awesome. And they all stepped up and volunteered in this crazy world we’ve got today,” Young said.
“We have to keep a strong military,” Young said. “What I’m happy for is the way veterans are treated now everywhere you go. I got out in 1965 and there was none of that. It seems good to see all vets getting their due now.”
“We’ve got a World War II vet at our post who is 89 years old,” Young said. “For years he kept it all to himself. Most vets didn’t talk about it. … These guys came back, went to work, tried to forget it all. None of them talked about it.”
Young said now the man speaks to school children about his experiences. “He loves to go talk to kids,” he said.