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Generations gather to honor the area’s fallen

June 6, 2016
By Ann Belcher - , Westfield Republican

PORTLAND - Nearly 300 people gathered at Portland's Evergreen Cemetery Monday morning to honor the country's fallen servicemen and women and listened to speeches that captured the sentiments of the small communities of Brocton and Portland and reignited the message behind Memorial Day.

Legionnaires and the Sons of the American Legion from Brocton's John W. Dill American Legion Post 434 gathered together under the heat of the sun to put on a touching ceremony to honor, remember and pay respect to those who are enshrined in Evergreen, Portland's Pecor Street Cemetery, as well as POW's and MIA's throughout the world.

Legion Post Commander Henry Link recognized three World War II veterans in attendance at Monday's service.

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David Skinner, sophomore at Brocton Central School offered a heartfelt reading of Johnny Cash’s “That Ragged Old Flag” at the Memorial Day service held at Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery Monday.

"My grandmother lived in hope that he would show up one day," Bohall recalled.

Jason knew of that history and the sacrifices of other family members who served in various branches of the military. But he didn't hesitate to enlist himself, Bohall said.

More than 20 years after his death, Memorial Day remains a hard holiday for Bohall and her family. But she could not miss the observance at St. James, one of four such wreath-laying ceremonies organized Monday by Westfield's American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.

"We don't forget," Joe Seminatore, commander of Westfield's John W. Rogers American Legion Post, who spent 23 years in the Army Reserves.

"We can't forget everything they gave to preserve our freedoms."

Westfield's observances began at Daniel Reed Memorial pier in Barcelona with a wreath tossed in to Lake Erie by Mary Ann Beuttner, of Westfield, mother of Terry Henderson who died at 21 while serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War. "I cry a little bit every year," Beuttner said, but she added that the rituals of Memorial Day are a source of comfort.

Ray Turck is part of that tradition. At 92, the World War II Army Air Corp. veteran from Sherman read the prayer for fallen soldiers and sailors at all four sites, as he has for years. "I want to keep it up as long as I can," he said.

The parade down Main Street that followed the observances at St. James and Westfield Portland Union Cemetery was lively and well-attended - even Wonder Woman turned out to hand out red, white and blue leis.

Robert McIntosh, of Ripley, who spent 24 years in the Marines, said he hoped the kids paid attention to the message that's behind all the celebratory aspects of the holiday that marks the traditional start of summer. He's been dismayed in recent years by the number of youths who fail to put hand to heart when the American flag is displayed.

"Several million men and women died to either protect our freedom or provide freedom for somebody else," McIntosh said. "We need the young people in the U.S. to understand that."

Nancy Hanks, of Westfield, echoed McIntosh's sentiment when she recalled her experience as a teenager during World War II. "It was so meaningful for us," she said. "We knew all the guys that got killed. It really mattered to us."

Hanks worries that the current generation has no emotional connect to conflicts that are seen as happening in far-off places. During World War II, everybody felt responsibility for aiding the war effort, whether it was collecting materials for service men, conserving gasoline or serving as lookouts for enemy aircraft. "Everybody was in it," she said. "Wars now seem so far away."

Respect for sacrifice and service was surely paid at Westfield's Academy Street cemetery, where the parade ended. The crowd stood among the gravestones dotted with American flags to hear remarks from Westfield Mayor Mike VandeVelde, the "Star Spangled Banner" played by the Westfield Academy and Central School senior high band and a rendition of "Angels Among Us" sung by Will Torres.

VandeVelde noted that he has two sons now serving in the Marines. He urged the crowd to "pause to reflect on what has been given" by veterans who willingly "left their homes to fight for our democracy around the world."

Perhaps the most important lesson of Memorial Day, as observed by Steve Peters, a former Marine and lifetime member of the VFW, is the inescapable reality that "freedom is not free."



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