Westfield's Memorial Day tributes to those lost while serving their country ranged from joyous to somber, offering reflections on the sacrifices made to celebrations of the flag and the freedoms that the fallen gave their lives to protect.
James Kaufman, commander of the John W. Rogers American Legion Post No. 327, got the commemorations off to an early start Monday with the lowering of the flag in Moore Park. Kaufman emphasized that Memorial Day is a time for remembrance of all who have served.
"It is important that we take this time to honor our departed comrades, whether they died in combat or after fulfilling their obligations to this country," said Kaufman, who has been a key organizer of Memorial Day events in Westfield for years. "It is my honor to be involved in this every year."
Photos by Cynthia Littleton
Top, Alexandra Hamann sings “America the Beautiful” during the Westfield Memorial Day service Monday.
Navy and Coast Guard officers were saluted against the shimmering backdrop of Barcelona Harbor, as Mary Ann Buettner, a Westfield resident since 1949, cast a wreath into Lake Erie. Buettner lost her son, sailor Terry Henderson, in 1969 during Vietnam, and she is active with the Blue Star Mothers of America. Buettner's other son, Randy Henderson, is part of a determined campaign to see the 74 casualties from his brother's ship, the USS Frank E Evans (DD 754), be included on the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.
Buettner recalled writing letters to the parents of those who also lost sons on ship. She still keeps in touch with them through holiday letters and other reunions. Memorial Day rituals and traditions help Buettner come to grips with the loss of her son, all these years later.
Among those on hand for the wreath-casting was Raymond Turck, a World War II veteran who celebrated his 90th birthday this month. The North Clymer native survived being in the south of France on "D-Day plus one," as he noted, and plenty of other dangerous situations in his tour with the 12th Air Force that took him from Casablanca to Corsica and many places in between. He's a longtime chaplain for the Westfield VFW and a committed volunteer who has logged many miles transporting wounded vets to treatment centers.
When he reflects on his service as the nation prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day next month, Turck still grapples with the "why me" question.
"It's one of those things you wonder about," Turck said. "The good Lord must've been good to me. I got shot at a couple of times by a sniper. I guess he was a bad shot."
As the wreath made its way across Lake Erie, the annual Memorial Day parade stepped off in front of Moore Park at 10:30 a.m. sharp with a colorful assemblage of everything from honor and color guards to Cub Scouts and firefighters to a family in superhero costumes who came to pay tribute to real-life heroes. Dogs, kids on bikes, people in wheelchairs and even a few goats joined the procession down Main Street to Westfield Cemetery.
The 567 flags fluttering above the grave sites of veterans buried in the cemetery were a visual reminder of the solemnity of the occasion. Speakers included the American Legion's Kaufman, a prayer delivered by Turck and some thoughtful remarks on death and loss from Ben Probst, a Westfield native who works for Hospice Chautauqua County. Another wreath was laid on the memorial stone at the entryway to the cemetery by members of the VFW's Ladies Auxiliary.
There was a 21-gun salute, a rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" by the Westfield Academy Central School, and "America the Beautiful" by Alexandra Hamann. But the most poignant part of the service was, appropriately enough, the moment of silence followed by Taps performed by two trumpeters situated on either side of the cemetery. As the mournful notes reached the crowd from both directions, even the animals and babies were still - so much so that the only sound that could be detected was a few muffled sniffles.