BROCTON - Although the roughly 300 citizens attended a mostly unchanged Memorial Day service at Brocton's Evergreen Cemetery, David Hazleton celebrated it for the first time as the main speaker and mayor of Brocton.
"The empty seat at the dinner table, the smaller gathering on Thanksgiving and the voice of a loved one heard only as a distant memory are constant reminders that they are gone," Hazleton said somberly.
His gloomy message set the tone, as he stressed thankfulness for sacrifice. But with every sacrifice, someone benefits. Hazleton also highlighted reasons we have to be thankful in his speech.
OBSERVER?Photo by Mark Belcher
World War II veteran Ferris Woleben salutes when his branch of the military was honored Monday during the March of the Armed Forces.
He choked through the stories of Dennis Weichal and Jason Dunham, two fallen soldiers, highlighting their sacrifices for humans as a whole, not just the nation. Weichal died when he pushed an Afghan boy out of the way of an armored vehicle, and Dunham died in a sacrifice to his fellow Marines when he jumped on a grenade to save their lives.
A total of 686 soldiers, many of whom died in such heroic fashions, eternally rest in Evergreen Cemetery.
His stories in light of that fact cast a silent and reflective state over the crowd.
But the service wasn't all gloomy. It was also about community pride. The Brocton Central School band, led by director Brian Hornbuckle, arrived with roughly 25 students to play the National Anthem while Ferris Woleben, World War II veteran, and Connor Graham, a Sons of the American Legion member, hoisted the American flag.
"In reflecting on the sacrifices of their comrades during World War I, the founders of the American Legion saw four common reasons as to why American so often answer their nation's call," Hazleton said in his speech.
Hazleton outlined the pillars as American core values, strong national defense, fellow comrades and the children.
If one thing shows today, it is the American Legion's love for their country and their countrymen. Hazleton explained the Legion's national efforts to raise scholarship funds for the children of fallen soldiers and some of their other efforts.
"We honor the living comrades of the fallen -- the wounded, injured and ill members of our armed forces through programs like Operation Comfort Warriors, Heroes to Hometowns and through the work of American Legion service officers," Hazleton said. "Often times these veterans are surprised that so many want to help them. We don't do this because of any requirements. We do it because we want to. It is simply the right thing to do."
The love of the Legion also shown true in their dedication to the celebration of Memorial Day. A total of 12 members arrived to stand and help with the service.
Henry Link, commander of Brocton's American Legion Post 434, following a nationalistic theme, included the Pledge of Allegiance in this year's ceremony -- something not traditionally said. He arranged for Alec Travis-Daugherty and John Nickerson Jr., Post 434's Boys State representatives for this year, to say it. Link also invited student Kayde Putcher to say the traditional poem 'Why Wear a Poppy.'
The poem by Don Crawford, a sad story of a son who doesn't return home from war, epitomized the happy yet sad feeling hanging in the air.
Hazleton said, "There is nothing wrong with enjoying and celebrating our American way of life. But Memorial Day is really about remembering those who made our way of life possible."