At the beginning of the Town of Chester Veterans Memorial Plaza re-dedication ceremony held July 6, local veterans serving in a color guard — Frank Tucci, John MacMillen and Jim Fregoe — stand at attention during a prayer.
After the patriotic music concluded, Leslie Fitzgerald of Queensbury stepped up to one of the eight monuments in the Town of Chester Veterans Memorial Plaza, which had just been re-dedicated in a ceremony July 6.
Tears welling in her eyes, she ran her fingers over her grandfather’s name — William R. Tresten — engraved in stone.
“It’s very emotional to see his name here, — along with all these others — and realize what they’ve done for our country,” Fitzgerald said.
Her husband Jim Fitzgerald, a Marine who served in Desert Storm, put his hand on her shoulder.
“We’re extremely proud,” he said, guiding Tresten, from Chestertown, to stand in front of the monument with the couple’s children for a keepsake photo. Tresten served during the Korean War.
During the hour-long ceremony beforehand, dozens of area veterans, more than 300 area citizens, community leaders and a state veterans official, gathered for the re-dedication of the Chestertown Veterans Memorial Plaza.
The ceremony included patriotic songs, a rifle-firing salute with Taps, dramatic readings and heartfelt prayers.
Top NYS official praises local spirit
Keynote Speaker for the event was New York State Director of Veterans Affairs Eric Hesse, a retired U.S. Army colonel.
He talked of how this year was the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, the 40th year of an all-volunteer military, and the 10th anniversary of the beginning of combat in Iraq.
“We’re here to honor our heroes, to remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication, and to say, ‘Thank You’ for their sacrifices,” Hesse said. “We stand in the midst of patriots and the family and friends of those who have nobly served.”
Hess paused, holding back emotion.
“This is what community is all about, and it makes me proud to be a veteran,” he continued, talking of the ceremony and remarking how the memorial plaza project was built without taxpayer money. “Your memorial is a testament to what people can accomplish when they set their minds to it.”
Over the last two years or so, a community group led by veterans had raised tens of thousands of dollars and coordinated a project to establish a the memorial plaza in front of the town hall.
The plaza consists of six-feet-tall memorials honoring the men and women from the town of Chester who served their nation from the Revolutionary War to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.The granite monuments are engraved with 1,100-plus names and flanked with six flags representing the various military forces.
New this year are four granite benches and 135 veterans’ names added to the monuments. The new names include Jeremiah Monroe of Brant Lake who sacrificed his life in Afghanistan and Ennis J.Geraghty of Chestertown who was killed in action during World War II.
Donors, volunteers thanked
Veteran and Word of Life founder Harry Bollback, chairman of the monument development committee, thanked dozens of people who helped with the upgrades, including the 40-plus Home Depot employees for their many hours of labor landscaping and constructing walkways plus thanks to their corporation for contributing $11,000 in materials; to MacMillan Construction & Design and local DPW Superintendent Jason Monroe and town highway workers for their assistance, and to the Glens Falls National Bank executives, employees and customers for their donation of two granite benches.
Bank CEO Tom Murphy deferred credit to the employees and customers of the bank and Upstate Insurance for their contributions.
“We are very, very honored to be part of this ceremony,” he said.
Bollback also praised members of the VFW Post 5513 and American Legion Post 964 for their work over the past several years to make the memorial plaza a reality.
Mark Luciano, aide to U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, presented a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to local officials — and he read a proclamation from Owens.
“We acknowledge the lives of individuals who demonstrated such steadfast dedication to family, community, state and country,” he said.
Crowd breaks into song
A trio from Word of Life — Kristopher Stout, Micah Melville and Matt Melville — sang patriotic songs, along with Robin Jewell and Bert Britt. Their songs, blending patriotism and a spiritual message, prompted tears as well as cheers from the crowd, which at times sang along with such popular anthems as “Proud to be an American.”
The ceremony concluded with a dramatic fly-over by two vintage warplanes. John Alexander of Warrensburg piloted a PT-23 Fairchild, and Don Latterell of Queensbury was behind the throttle of a PT-17 Stearman biplane. They criss-crossed the skies overhead — not far above the cheering crowd.
Hesse offered his thoughts as the ceremony ended.
“This hits home for me,” he said, noting he was from a small town. “This fantastic community has done a beautiful job.”