OSWEGO, NY – There were few marching in the parade, and their route was short.
But, their message was heard around the nation – Memorial Day is the time when an ever grateful country thanks its veterans, past and present.
Before the large crowd gathered at Veterans’ Memorial Park, a small group gathered at the west end of the Utica Street Bridge’s north side.
Everyone knows a Gold Star Mother is someone who has lost a son or daughter in the service of our country; “but, how did this group get started?” Oswego Mayor Randy Bateman asked.
On June 4, 1928, a group of 25 mothers residing in Washington, DC, met to make plans to organize a national organization to be known as the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., a nondenominational, non-profitable and nonpolitical organization. On Jan. 5, 1929, the organization was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia.
American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., is registered in the US Patent Office, Legislative Branch of the US Congressional Library and the US World Book Almanac, the mayor noted.
On June 12, 1984, the 98th Congress of the United States granted the American Gold Star Mothers a charter.
“They’re an organization of mothers whose sons or daughters served and died that this world might be a better place in which to live,” Bateman said. “We are gathered here today to rededicate this plaque in honor of the Gold Star Mothers of our community.”
One plaque was to rededicate the bridge, the other to honor the Gold Star Mothers.
The Oswego Navy Sea Scouts – Ship 229, H. Lee White Marine Museum Division served as honor guard.
Gay Williams, assisted by her husband, Al, unveiled the plaques.
Their son, Lt. Nathan H. Williams, 28, was one of two people killed April 6 when the F/A-18F Super Hornet they were flying during a training exercise crashed in a field near Naval Air Station Lemoore in California.
He was a 2000 graduate of Oswego High School.
Fred Crisafulli’s mother was the first Gold Star Mother in Oswego during World War II; with the untimely death of Lt. Williams, his mother is the most recent.
A large crowd, many decked out in red, white and blue, ringed Veterans Memorial Park under clear skies with temperatures near 80 as the Port City paused Monday to honor all veterans.
Memorial Day is sacred to all veterans and families of veterans, according to George Hoffman, the master of ceremonies.
He was joined on stage by Mayor Bateman, Oswego Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie and Sgt. Charles Haas, president of the Oswego City Veterans’ Council.
“Today is the first official day of the summer season. However, let’s not forget who gave us these times of pleasure and enjoyment. This day is in memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice, laying down their lives so you and I and our families have the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms that we have today,” Hoffman told the large crowd assembled in the park. “One day – just one day to remember the sacrifice of those who have before us and also to remind those who have been touchéd by the pain of war that the lives they mourn were not offered in vain.”
It was no holiday for them; they did not have a picnic, he added.
He told everyone to pass along the reason the veterans died so those who never knew them would understand the reason for observances such as Memorial Day.
“It’s overwhelming to see the amount of people who’ve come down to this event,” Sgt. Haas said. “I appreciate it straight from my heart; this is what Oswego is.”
Mayor Bateman also praised the veterans.
“We are gathered here today to remember those who have given their lives for our country. We are here to express our gratitude to those among us who have served our country and have returned to live here. They symbolize patriotism, virtue and courage,” he said. “We are here to raise our voices in praise for those who are today representing our country in dangerous lands against determined enemies.”
He also told everyone about the rededication ceremony for the bridge and Gold Star Mothers plaque.
“As a proud veteran of the United States Air Force, I am profoundly aware of the sacrifices that have been made by those veterans that are blessed to be with us today. We must never take these freedoms for granted.”
McCrobie said growing up he wasn’t really aware of what Memorial Day meant.
“As a young boy, I didn’t appreciate Memorial Day the way I should have. It was just another way to have my birthday off,” he said. “When our sandlot baseball field, the Diamond Match, got changed to Crisafulli Park and we’d be down there playing on Memorial Day or the weekend and all of a sudden the wreath would be there. We’d go and check it out but never really realized what it meant.”
The fire chief recognized all the veterans and their families “for all they’ve done to make this country great.”
He also encouraged everyone to remember Charles Crisafulli (the Port City’s first casualty of World War II) and Nate Williams.
“Remember them not just today but every day,” he said.
“Freedom is a flavor the unprotected will never know,” Hoffman said. “If you do nothing else today, please never forget the message from those who we honor today. For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavor.”
“Do me one favor this Memorial Day,” Hoffman added. “Pay tribute to those who gave all. And, if you encounter a living veteran today or other military person – just say thanks. That’s all the pay we need.”
Earlier in the day, veterans representing several organizations were out visiting cemeteries and parks around the area in honor of their fallen comrades.