MOMENT OF REMEMBRANCE — Among those participating in the Warren County POW-MIA Memorial ceremonies Sunday June 2 are (front, left to right): Gene Slavin of Queensbury, Terry Waterston of North Creek and her granddaughter Mackenzie Waterston of Glens Falls; plus veteran (left rear): Bill Shaw of Malta.
Rain pelted the metal roof overhead, at times drowning out the words of New York National Guard Colonel Eric Olsen as he spoke at Warren County's annual POW-MIA Memorial Ceremony held June 2.
Participating in the event were dozens of veterans, many of them motorcyclists who’d ridden through a drenching thunderstorm that displaced the ceremony from Prospect Mountain to the Lake George American Legion’s picnic pavilion off Rte. 9L.
“You guys have the grit, because you’ve seen far worse,” he said to the bikers — many of them standing at attention holding flags as a color guard — noting how they’d ridden from the mountaintop to the Legion Post through the downpour.
Among those navigating the downpour on two wheels were American Legion Riders groups from Chestertown, Warrensburg, Mechanicville, Hudson Falls and Broadalbin; the regional Patriot Guard Riders; and the American Guardians of Lake George — joined by the Combat Veterans Association as well as Legionnaires, V.F.W. members and Auxiliary; and personnel from the Marine Corps League.
Olsen, the National Guard’s chief Chaplain, praised the veterans for their service, while paying tribute to the prisoners of war and the soldiers missing in action.
“You veterans know what it takes when you raise your hand and join the service —throwing your lot to the wind with your destiny in others’ hands,” he said. “You did it with courage and fidelity.”
He praised the veterans for willingness to sacrifice their lives for their nation, which he said was based on one’s dedication to family and friends, as well as a firm belief in U.S. citizens determining their own future, rather than risk kowtowing to tyrants.
“I’m proud to stand here with men and women who have these beliefs, and that’s what today is all about,” he said, noting that the soldiers classified as missing in action and those who died prisoners of war made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Many soldiers weren’t able to determine their own future,” he said. “We’re living for them now, and that’s vitally important.”
Olsen urged those present to reach out to other veterans facing troubles now due to their service while in combat.
“Many veterans have ‘checked out’ spiritually or are suffering emotionally and physically, trying to wash away the pain,” he said. “They need us more than ever.”
Olsen also called for citizens to help soldiers now returning from Afghanistan, who may be facing stresses and perhaps feeling disconnected from life at home.
“We need to truly bring them home,” he added.
Warren County American Legion Commander Gene Pierce introduced Olsen, noting the Colonel had counseled families at yellow-ribbon receptions and follow-up sessions — to help soldiers resolve their combat-related stresses and readjust to civilian life. Pierce had met Olsen in 2008 when his wife Blanca had returned from duty in Afghanistan — she was a Master Sergeant, concluding a 40-year military career.
“Olsen has not only done a lot for my family, but he’s done more to save the lives of soldiers than any program going on,” he said. “There are veterans committing suicide every day, and there’d be a lot more if it weren’t for Col. Olsen.”
Pierce’s daughter Megan read a poem that referred to the mental trauma the veterans deal with. She wrote it at age 13 for her mother in 2008 while she was deployed in Afghanistan.
The poem concludes: “I see the hurt that cannot be seen — a hole in the heart; a sacrifice made to provide liberty — Ask any solder, freedom is not free.”
Her father, who emceed the ceremony, said that advances in technology and the U.S.establishing relationships with former enemies has offered new opportunities to discover the fate of the unaccounted-for POWs and those soldiers classified as Missing in Action — by researching military documents and interviewing witnesses.
“It’s up to us to remind our government to research what happened to the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “If we don’t remember them, no one will.”
Also participating in the services were Warren County Legion chaplain Ray Hensler offering an invocation; Warren County Legion Auxiliary President Dawn Grant leading the Pledge of Allegiance; World War II Prisoner of War Harold Perkins of Clifton Park and veteran Dave Reichenbach of Lake George laying the memorial wreath; and Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Geraghty reading a proclamation on behalf of the county.
The service concluded with the participants holding hands as they sang “God Bless America“ — as the skies cleared.