Following the Veterans Memorial dedication ceremony held July 7, area citizens flocked to the monuments to find names of relatives and friends.
Harry Bollback looked at hundreds of people crowding around four giant granite memorials, inspecting inscriptions naming about 1,000 veterans who served in U.S. wars and conflicts over the past 235 years.
Moments earlier, Bollback presided over a dedication ceremony for the Chester Veterans Memorial Plaza, and local citizens had witnessed nothing in their lifetimes like this grand event.
Bollback, a World War II veteran, was in charge of coordinating the project of erecting the memorial, which includes the four massive granite slabs, a series of flagpoles, and a tribute sculpture to fallen soldiers. The installations are the centerpiece of the new memorial plaza in front of the town of Chester Municipal Center.
“I’m overwhelmed — I can’t talk about this event,” he said throwing his arms in the air moments after the memorial dedication ceremony occurred. “I’m too emotional.”
The occasion not only included speeches and political luminaries, but a color guard of active marine reservists, hundreds of uniformed veterans, a top state veterans’ official, and a daring fly-over featuring two antique airplanes.
But most impressive about the dedication event was the crowd of nearly 1,000 local residents jamming the new plaza, singing patriotic anthems with pride, cheering veterans with gusto — savoring every moment.
State Veterans Affairs Acting Director William Kraus said he was deeply impressed by the commitment of the local residents in their support of the memorial through the donations of cash and talent.
“Chester citizens, you deserve to be proud,” he said. “You are the embodiment of America. This monument will stand forever — There is no finer tribute than this.”
State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward offered a similar thought after she noted that her grandson was now serving in Afghanistan, prompting cheers from the crowd.
“This is a very emotional event for me today,” she said. “Thank you for all you’ve done to honor those who gave so much,” she said.
State Sen. Betty Little praised the dozens of people who invested time to make the memorial and the surrounding plaza a reality. She said it transformed the municipal center, making it truly a public landmark.
“This is a wonderful place for people to come, think, and contemplate,’ she said. “This dedication event makes me proud to be an an American.”
Town Supervisor Fred Monroe said the planning and construction of the plaza, which took about a year, was accomplished in an “unbelievably short time.”
“This memorial plaza will live on as a reminder of the thousands who protected our precious freedoms,” he said. “This is a fitting memorial to honor them.”
Monroe continued, noting that the gathering for the ceremony was impressive in size, scope and spirit.
“This is an amazing celebration of community spirit and patriotism,” he said.
Bagpipes were played, taps were sounded, and a volley of gunshots were fired in salute of soldiers who served the nation.
Robin Noel Jewell of Naples Fla. and Bert Britt of Schroon Lake sang various patriotic selections, and hundreds of citizens chimed in, many with tears in their eyes.
The service was concluded by a dramatic fly-over by the “Adirondack Air Force” — John Alexander of Warrensburg piloting a PT-23 Fairchild, and Don Latterell of Queensbury behind the throttle of a PT-17 Stearman biplane. They criss-crossed in the skies overhead — not far above the crowd, which voiced raucous cheers in response.
Afterwards, hundreds of people surrounded the four massive memorials, to view the names of loved ones or friends engraved in the granite slabs.
Jen Smith of Pottersville located the names of three of her relatives — her father, Harry Smith, who served in Viet Nam; her uncle, Robert Smith, who served in the War on Terror, and her second cousin, Robert Wood.
“To see their names here is touching, humbling and moving,” Jen Smith said. “It makes me very proud.”
Debbie Leigh of North Creek located the name of her father, Kenneth W. Tracy, who served in the Marine Corps during World War II.
“This memorial says to my dad, ‘Your life counted, your service to the nation was really important,’ — and it means a lot to me,” Leigh said.