OSWEGO, NY – Port City veterans, their friends, families and others hunkered down Saturday morning along the west bank of the Oswego River to pay tribute to those who have gone before them – especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The crowd stood by reverently in Veterans’ Memorial Park as the appointed hour neared. The temperature was around 32 degrees, but a cold wind was blowing in off the lake, the harbinger of things to come.
Veterans’ Day is celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour; that’s when the (World War I) truce was declared, according to LTjg George Hoffman, USNSCC, of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corp Truxtun DDG-103 Division in Oswego.
A chaplain offered the Veterans’ Day prayer and the flags at the center of the park were lowered; the Oswego City flag was first. It was solemnly folded.
The Prisoner Of War flag was also retired.
Dan Ferens, whose father was a POW at Stalag 17 during World War II, lowered the POW flag in honor of his father and all veterans who were ever prisoners.
Finally, the American flag was retired as well.
The flags were dutifully folded and presented to Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow.
The mayor accepted the colors on behalf of the city.
They will be stored over the winter and then returned to their place of prominence next spring on Memorial Day.
Hoffman welcomed all the veterans and guests to the ceremony.
“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to today’s ceremony and thank you for attending,” Hoffman said. “We are here to honor our service men and women and remember their sacrifices. We’re here today to honor our heroes and remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication and to say thank you for their sacrifices. We honor our veterans who have sacrificed both in war and in peace to protect America and the American way of life.”
He saluted the veterans present at the ceremony, pointing out, “We stand in the midst of patriots.”
He asked all the veterans in the crowd to raise their hands.
“Thank you for answering the call to duty,” he said. “You have made our armed forces the most respected in the world.”
Then he asked those who had family and friends “who have nobly served” to raise their hands.
“We know you have lived through difficult times and often taken the heavy load to keep the home fires burning,” he said. “Thank you for what you have done.”
Mayor Barlow praised all veterans, whether they served during war-time or peace.
“We appreciate your service. Your service, sacrifice and bravery allows us to enjoy the free and prosperous country we live in today,” he said.
The service people honored today, Hoffman noted, come from all walks of life.
“But, they share several fundamental qualities. They possess courage, pride, determination, selflessness dedication to duty and integrity – all the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than one’s self,” he said. “Many of them didn’t ask to leave their home to fight on distant battle fields; many didn’t even volunteer. They didn’t go to war because they love fighting. They were called to be part of something bigger than themselves. They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways at extreme times. They rose to the nation’s call because they wanted to protect the nation which has given us so much.”
“Your presence here today, and that of people gathering all across America, pays tribute to those lost troops and to their families. We remember and honor them all,” he continued. “It’s not a lot. But it’s one small way we honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live in freedom.”
In 1984, Mayor William Cahill dedicated the Oswego County Veterans’ Memorial Park.
This year marked the 99th anniversary of the first Armistice Day observance.
It commemorates the Armistice back in 1918, after World War I (“the Great War, the War to end all wars”), Hoffman said.
It was signed at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, he explained.
In 1954, the holiday was changed to Veterans’ Day following World War II and the Korean War.
In 1968, it was decided to move the holiday to the last Monday of October.
The first non-traditional Veterans’ Day was celebrated Oct. 25, 1971 – “observed with much confusion.”
Many states didn’t agree with this and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date.
Finally, on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law that returned the annual observance to its original date beginning in 1978.
“Today is a day to honor veterans. So, if you see a serviceman or veteran, make sure you thank them or even give them a hug,” Hoffman said. “Veterans’ Day honors all who served, regardless of when or where. Every generation owes a debt of gratitude to these patriots of the past and present.”
Oswego’s park is the site of the first free-standing MIA – POW monument in the nation.
A monument, honoring those who served as part of Operation Enduring Freedom / Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq and Afghanistan), was added in 2013 to the memorials to veterans of the nation’s other wars.