HORICON - Under sunny, clear autumn skies Saturday, the people of northern Warren County paid tribute - in a manner not witnessed here for generations - to one of their own who while serving his nation, gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Jeremiah Monroe, 31, the first soldier from North Warren Central School to be a casualty of war - and the first locally to die on duty since World War II - was killed Sept. 17 while on patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Monroe's funeral at the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Chestertown was attended by an overflow crowd. But later, the collective grief of area residents was even more apparent. After the funeral, hundreds of people stood alongside the highway from Chestertown to Horicon paying Monroe tribute as his hearse drove past. This funeral procession was more than 300 vehicles long.
Monroe's mid-morning funeral was attended by New York Police, Warren County Sheriff's officers, American Legion members, and the Veterans Mobile Honor Guard. They all stood at attention with flags waving in the cool breeze as the casket was carried from the hearse by Army soldiers from Fort Drum, directed by Major James L. Terry, Commanding General at Fort Drum.
Chaplain Major David Esselle of Fort Drum conducted the service. He invited friends and relatives to talk about Jeremiah. Nikki Monroe, a cousin, shared her memories of youthful fun, including playing the Dukes of Hazzard with Jeremiah and Robert, pretending to be going 100 miles per hour while the car was parked in the driveway. She finished talking with the Irish blessing that she had used at his father's funeral only a few months ago. John Kenyon and Jeremy Moon also talked.
Deacon Bob Wubbenhorst read Psalm 23, talking of overcoming the fear of death. Rev. John O'Kane led the 400-plus at the Church and overflowing crowd on the front lawn, in reciting the Lord's Prayer.
He said that Jeremiah had followed his sense of duty.
"Jeremiah gave the ultimate sacrifice so we could be free," he said. "We take comfort in the hope we will see him again one day."
Organist Patti Cory sang "America The Beautiful" and "Amazing Grace."
As Monroe was carried from the church, Bagpiper Matthew Miller Jr. from Lake Luzerne played. The white-gloved Army personnel from Fort Drum, with precision, slowly carried the casket down the stairs to the awaiting hearse.
As the procession of more than 300 vehicles left the church, they encountered hundreds of people along the route to the cemetery. At the North Warren Central School, the athletic team members, wearing their formal uniforms, stood holding American flags.
At several locations, fire departments had erected flags from their hook and ladder trucks.
On the procession's route past Dynamite Hill, the aerial unit of the Pottersville Fire Dept. had displayed a giant American flag high in the air as a tribute to Monroe.
At the entrance to the hamlet of Brant Lake, a banner had been erected that said "Thank You Jeremiah - Horicon will never forget you," and the Lake George aerial truck had stretched a huge American flag far above state Rte. 9.
Farther on the route at the Horicon Town Hall, the West Glens Falls and Queensbury Central Firefighters had stretched another huge flag across the roadway. On Palisades Road, a backhoe at Palmer Brothers Marina draped a flag from an upraised backhoe bucket.
People came from Burlington, Vermont, and Albany north to give tribute to this fallen soldier.
At the Underwood Cemetery, Chaplain Esselle said a few prayers. The Bagpiper played and the Fort Drum honor guard fired their rifles into the clear blue sky. Taps echoed off the mountains in the distance.
The Honor guard gently took the flag from the casket, folded it with precision, and Major General James Terry presented it to Delores Monroe.
Slowly the crowd dispersed. The North Country had indeed given their fallen hero a spectacular sendoff.
Jim Hayes, Captain of the Horicon Fire Department had organized the fire companies in the area and had designated where they were to display flags. The Horicon Volunteer Ladies Auxiliary were at attention at the Firehouse with flags. They provided food that was served at the Chestertown Firehouse for a reception held for funeral attendees. District Attorney Kate Hogan, Senator Betty Little, and John Kimmerly, who lost his son in Iraq, were in attendance.
Many who passed by in the procession may not have been aware that a permanent tribute had just the prior day been placed in town.
The soldiers' monument in front of the Horicon Town Hall showcases memorial stones representing all the wars - from the Civil War to Iraq and Afghanistan. The local monument committee was able to have a stone paver, inscribed with Jeremiah's name. crafted on Friday in Vermont and Robert Smith set it and cleaned the monument so it would be in place when Jeremiah and family went by.
Doubtlessly, for many generations to come, when people see this granite block, they'll be reminded of Jeremiah Monroe's sacrifice that has touched the hearts of so many in the North Country.