When you hear or speak about Memorial Day and the honor paid to United States veterans, words such as, "defending," "freedom," and "sacrifice" often come to the forefront. Honoring those who have sacrificed their lives by defending our way of life to preserve our freedoms is of the utmost importance on Memorial Day.
Maybe you placed a flag near a veteran marker in a nearby cemetery. Maybe you wrote an essay about veterans in your sixth-grade history class. Or maybe you simply stood along Central Avenue Monday morning, clapping, and mouthed the words "thank you" as veterans groups from throughout the area marched by. Whatever it may have been, it was appreciated.
To recognize the men and women who lost their lives while serving our country on this Memorial Day, the City of Dunkirk hosted a series of events. Early Monday morning the 25th annual Memorial Day Services sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum began.
Memorial Day services
"I think it's a tribute to your character and your sense of patriotism to be here this morning and take part in this ceremony," James Strychalski from the Knights of Columbus began.
"This year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Shortly after its conclusion in 1868 was the very first time a national memorial occasion was observed. In the beginning popularly known as Declaration Day ... that tradition as a symbol of our remembrance is still strong; our emphasis today is and must be on mainly remembering the nature of the supreme sacrifice that so many made in the service of our country."
Commander George Burns III, United States Coast Guard (retired), who has spoken during the Memorial Day ceremonies for the past few years, reminded everyone in attendance at the Dunkirk Lighthouse of how much of an impact residents in Chautauqua County and in Dunkirk have made as servicemen and women to the United States. To do this Burns places stories with names of residents who have lost their lives during wartime.
OBSERVER Photo by Michael Rukavina
Left to right: Staff Sergeant Joseph Gullo III, 542nd Force Provider, U.S. Army, presents John Fedyszyn, Vietnam Veteran United States Marine Corps and CPO Arthur Casella, USN (Ret.) with a plaque and the flags flown over the United States Capitol in their honor. The request was made by Congressman Brian Higgins.
OBSERVER Photo by Michael Rukavina
Commander George Burns III, United States Coast Guard (Ret.) speaking at the Dunkirk Lighthouse. Cmdr. Burns, a native of Fredonia, also spoke at Memorial Park.
During the Memorial Park service later Monday morning, Burns spoke of story that took place on Dec. 9, 1944, when a wave of B-17's took off to bomb a German oil storage plant. One of those B-17's took on accurate flak over Prague and had to crash-land near the Alps. Four of the passengers on the plane bailed out; three were taken to a POW camp while the bombardier, who was Jewish, was seized by a local Nazi official, who immediately killed him. The co-pilot, pilot and three other members remained in the plane and made a safe landing, Burns continued. They were captured, he said, and placed in a truck. They were held by a Nazi official and an area Chief of Police. The Nazi official ordered the truck to stop, told the five Americans to get down in a ditch before he opened fire on them. One of those five men murdered was a Second lieutenant U.S. Army Air Force, who resided at 634 Swan Street in Dunkirk.
"During peacetime we see and hear enlistment advertising promising money for college, providing opportunities to learn employable skills, or just appealing to the excitement of it all. There is nothing wrong with these enticements but none are effective unless the person contemplating military service has in their heart a love of country and a patriotic desire to take their turn to defend the rest of us," Burns said. "Those in the service are driven by a desire to take a stand, put their lives on hold, and then on the line to protect something to value to all of us. We're lucky to see them every one or two years, and in some cases we never see them again ... every person from this area who has served their country had to leave town ... all had one thing in common, they all had one last look at home."
Burns wished to recognize and acknowledge the sacrifices of the men and women from Chautauqua County who served, were wounded or captured, and certainly those who lost their lives.
"Those who lost their lives did not return, and that last look out the window was in fact a last time they saw their home and families again," he said. "I think we need to keep that sacrifice in mind. Not only the men who were killed but also the families who had to live with it for all of these years."
During the Dunkirk Joint Veterans Council Memorial Day Services in Memorial Park, Master of Ceremonies John D'Agostino stated an unsettling fact: Since last year's Memorial Day ceremony at least 95 area veterans or those who served in the military have passed away.
"Each Memorial Day we witness more and more additional flags being attached to more and more additional grave markers. The Veterans Administration that each day we are losing 1,571 veterans. Of that figure, each day, claiming near 1,000 veterans of the World War II era," noted guest speaker and Vietnam Veteran United States Marine Corps John Fedyszyn.
Fedyszyn also noted that 35 of the 95 veterans who have died since last year's Memorial Day did not have a military accord, and he urged citizens to notify the Joint Veterans Council of any local veterans passing.
"Thirty-five heroes last year were not recognized for the service they gave," he said. "The price they paid for the freedoms we live and enjoy today and the freedoms they left behind for us. So many graves, so many flags, how many more will we be placing on those new grave markers next Memorial Day?"
Following Fedyszyn's remarks, Staff Sergeant Joseph Gullo III, 542nd Force Provider, US Army presented John Fedyszyn and CPO Arthur Casella, US Navy (retired) with a plaque certifying that the flags given to them were flown over the United States Capitol in their honor. The request to have the flags flown in their honor was made by Congressman Brian Higgins.
"John you do a great job, what you do for the people, you're a busy man and God bless you for what you do. You certainly are a man of honor," Gullo said. "Art, you've done a great job all of these years. Art served with my dad so there is a lot of special meaning today. I salute you sir."
Also speaking during the ceremony was Secondary Speaker, Lt. Christopher Wilson, United States Coast Guard and leader of the Sea Partners Campaign.
"As a child growing up there was and still is a flag displayed respectfully and proudly at my childhood home, 24-7. Let us never forget to honor and show appropriate respect to those who have served America to ensure our freedoms and way of life," Wilson said.
Fellow guest speaker, Commander of the Alpha Company, 642nd Aviation Support Battalion N.Y. Army National Guard in Dunkirk 1rst Lt. Francis J. Salvadore reflected on what could have been if not for our brave veterans.
"Every year we as a country take one day, Memorial Day, to pay tribute to those who have given their lives to defend our country. These great men and women gave their lives defending our constitution, our freedom, and the freedom of others," he said. "Without the sacrifices of these men and women in war, our nation, the nations of others and the world would look much different today. Had we lost one of these wars freedom in other countries and nations as we know them today may not exist ...had we lost one of these wars, our nation may not exist."
Following the service the Memorial Day Parade began down Lake Shore Drive, onto Central Avenue and expired into Washington Park. A video of Cmdr. Burns recognizing some area veterans can be found on the OBSERVER website along with a video of the presentation for John Fedyszyn and Arthur Casella.
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