Under pewter skies in Riverside Park last Friday, members of American Legion Post 83 and its honor guard along with a gathering of veterans, children off from school for the day and their parents, members of the Whitehall High School Select Chorus conducted by John Chandler and others commemorated Veterans Day on “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”
The ceremony was a moving tribute to those who have served in the armed forces.
After an invocation by Post 83 chaplain Bob Wubbenhorst, Legion trustee Mike Rocque told those assembled: “No one does holiday and special military related events like the town of Whitehall, whether it’s Memorial Day, Flag Day or Veterans Day. We’re probably one of the few communities that really understands what the difference is between all the days.”
Rocque explained Armed Forces Day in May is specifically to honor those who wear uniforms, while Memorial Day is a “thank you to a star on the wall, to someone who went off to war to serve our nation and never made it home.” Veterans Day is “the day we say thank you to all veterans who served.”
“Three days, three different celebrations.”
Rocque went on to say that because of advances in military technology, many fewer people are needed to serve in the military today. “Today, I think it’s about three-quarters of one percent who serve in the military. Currently there are about 17 million Americans who at one time wore a uniform in service to their nation. It used to be that about 10 to 15 percent of America served. We’re down to about five or six percent today.
“It’s kind of a small club, so if you have served, thank you for your service.”
The ceremony included a three-round volley accompanied by the sounding of “Taps” by Gillian Gonyea to rededicate the recently restored Civil War cannon that has overlooked the village of Whitehall for 124 years, as well as the singing of “The National Anthem” by the Select Chorus and “God Bless America” led by Jenine Mecura and the honorable retirement of unserviceable flags with a “clean and purging fire” overseen by Post 83 commander Brian Davis.
After the ceremony, Rocque acknowledged that Whitehall has a lot of veterans for the size of the community. “A lot of families in Whitehall now are third- and fourth-generation veterans.”
Rocque thought it was Walter Winchell who said on national radio during World War II that the community of Whitehall, New York had the highest per capita participation rate in World War II.
“The point here is that we have so many veterans here and we’re now saying goodbye to our last World War II veterans.”
After the ceremony, those who had assembled gathered across Skenesborough Drive at Post 83 for a lunch of chili and cornbread before the afternoon rain began.
Watch the full service that was broadcast live on the Whitehall Times Facebook page.