OSWEGO, NY – Specialist Brett E. Gornewicz.
Specialist Ryan P. Jayne.
Staff Sgt. Dain T. Venne.
These three heroes poignantly drove home the true meaning of Veterans’ Day this year for a large crowd in Veterans’ Memorial Park.
They died of wounds suffered when their humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device in Paktiya Province, Afghanistan on November 3.
The three men were assigned to the 444th Engineer Company which is headquartered in Oswego. The unit is an element of the 178th Engineer Battalion of the 412th Theater Engineer Command.
A large poster, with photos of the men, stood near the center of the park, beneath the trio of flags on Sunday as the Port City paused to salute its veterans.
Oswego’s park is reportedly the site of the first free-standing MIA – POW monument in the nation.
The flags at the center of the park were lowered; the Oswego City flag was first. It was solemnly folded.
The Prisoners Of War flag was next.
Then, the American flag was retired as well.
A representative of the Oswego Navy Sea Cadet, assisted Oswego veteran Paul Riordan in lowering and folding the American flag.
Riordan, a former Veteran of the Year, then presented the flags to Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen.
“On behalf of the United States of America, I present these flags to you for safe keeping,” he said.
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.
“It is a real honor to be here today,” the mayor said. “Here in Oswego and across this great country, Americans honor our brave fighting men and women for over 230 years. We recognize that all our veterans have given something of themselves. Some have given all. As we reflect on the blessings that we enjoy in America, let us never forget that we cannot rightfully celebrate the joy of freedom without remembering the great price that was paid by our heroes!”
He offered “a simple but heartfelt message” to all veterans – “Thank you very much.”
Veterans Day commemorates the Armistice back in 1918, after World War I.
It is celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour; that’s when the truce was declared, according to LTjg George Hoffman, USNSCC, of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corp Truxtun DDG-103 Division in Oswego, and the commander of VFW Post 2320.
Veterans’ Day is treated as a holiday, and yet, shouldn’t be a holiday, he said. “It should be a day of remembrance,” he explained. “We have to make sure our children never forget that message.”
The President of the Oswego City Veterans’ Council Charlie Haws, is First Sergeant for the 444th. He informed the crowd of the recent deaths.
“I am very sad to announce that our most recent KIAs, last Saturday, we had three soldiers from the 444th that were killed in action,” he said, adding that another soldier who was in the vehicle is en route to Walter Reed.
One of the council’s board members, Neil Knopp, also passed away on Saturday.
A moment of silence was held in their honor.
The council then honored David Brown for many years of performing “Taps” at the various veteran memorial services. He also plays during Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day ceremonies.
Assemblyman Will Barclay said we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who wear the uniform of our nation.
“Being a veteran is at its most essential level about service and sacrifice. It is not surprising that many of those who assisted our state and region during Hurricane Sandy are veterans,” he pointed out.
“Today we give thanks to the good men and women who have given selflessly, who’d give up their lives to defend us from those who would destroy our nation and all it represents. And, is it ever more acute, that feeling right now, when we have the sacrifice of these three brave servicemen.”
“When we did the vigil last night (for the three members of the 444th), that’s when it really strikes home about how much their service and sacrifice means,” said Peter Allen of Thank A Service Member. “I know that on a day-to-day basis, most of the community goes about their business, and they don’t really pause to think just how hard these folks work. They’re not doing it for the pay, that’s for sure. They’re doing it for love of country. They’re doing it for their families and they’re doing it for you. And, unfortunately, this week, three of them lost their lives.”
The temperature climbed to near 60 degrees Sunday, making it one of the nicer days on which the ceremony has been held.
There are many ways to honor a veteran on this day, Hoffman told the crowd.
“Thank you for never forgetting the sacrifices of America’s fighting men and women,” he said. “One of the ways to honor veterans is flying the flag. Also, observe the day with a veteran. It means the world to these veterans who are in the hospital if you just stop by and say hello. And, you can also provide a meal to a veteran.”
This year marked the 94th anniversary of the first observance.
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, he said. 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,” Hoffman noted. “Finally on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law that returned the annual observance to its original date beginning in 1978.”
Anyone interested in joining the Sea Cadets or obtaining information can contact Hoffman at 315-591-0000.
For more information regarding Thank A Service Member, call 315-402-5915, [email protected], or visit www.thankaservicemember.org