by Dan McClelland
Many people attended or participated in Monday morning's half-hour long Memorial Day observance at the Veterans' Park on Park Street, despite the rain showers that fell during the entire event. The mild soaking, however, didn't dampen the strong remembrance of loved ones prevalent at the observance that morning.
Ray Tarbox, newly reelected commander of the VFW Post 3120, welcomed the more than 100 that morning, on behalf of the five local veterans' organizations that hosted the event: his post, the American Legion Post 220, the Adirondack Leatherneck Marine Corp League, the Tupper Lake Honor Guard and Amvets Post 7120.
“One hundred and fifty-one years have passed since a drug store in Waterloo, N.Y. encouraged businesses to close for one day to honor to the soldiers who lost their lives during the Civil War- an idea that was well received,” Commander Tarbox began.
“For one day businesses closed, widows placed fresh flowers on graves, townspeople placed wreaths and crosses upon headstones and flags were flown at half-mast. It was then an American tradition was born!
“From the earliest days of America's founding, our great nation has been blessed with generation after generations of patriots willing to lay down their lives in defense of our freedom and way of life. We are truly fortunate to live in a country worth fighting for...to be afforded a way of life worth dying for.
“Today and every Memorial Day we pay tribute to those heroic patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice...who bravely rose up and fought for something greater than themselves, protecting a home to which they never returned. We honor their service, mourn their loss and remember the families they left behind.”
Mr. Tarbox then introduced the Reverend Rick Wilburn of the Tupper Lake Baptist Chapel and a veteran to offer an opening prayer.
It was followed by a performance of the National Anthem, well performed by more than 30 members of the Tupper Lake High School Band, under the direction of Laura Davison. It was again inspiring that the local teenagers would give up their holiday mornings to perform their very moving music for the Memorial Day audience. By half way throughmuch of their sheet music was rain-soaked and wilting, but they played on with pride and spirit.
Members of Tupper Lake Boy Scout Troop 23, accompanied by local Cub Scouts came to the front of the memorial to lead the audience in the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
Mr. Tarbox introduced that day's guest speaker, Tupper Lake's own Michael Larabie, calling it “his distinct privilege.”
Michael was born on August 20, 1950, the fourth of nine children born to Phillippe and Marcella (Desmarais) Larabie in Tupper Lake.
He attended local schools, graduated from Tupper Lake High School in 1968 before going to work at the Grand Union and American Legion Mountain Camp. In 1972 he joined the U.S. Air Force. Mike was first stationed at Keesler Air Force base in Mississippi and later was assigned to Las Vegas, two tours in England, to San Angelo, Texas, to an assignment in Turkey and then to a post as recruiter at a base in Pennsylvania. According to Mr. Tarbox, Michael finished his service at the Plattsburgh Air Force base, where he retired as a master sergeant in 1992.
During his time of service, he served during the end of the Vietnam War and during the bombing of Desert Storm and in Libya.
He began federal service at the Plattsburgh base in 1993 and then transferred to the Tupper Lake Post Office the next year, where he worked until his retirement in 2014.
VFW Commander Tarbox said Mr. Larabie has been very active over the years in local veterans affairs, first joining the VFW Post here in 1994. A life member of the post, he has served in many official capacities as chaplain for 20 years and as junior vice commander these past three years.
“Mike did a tremendous job as junior vice commander and I have no doubt he will put forth a similar excellent effort in his next role of judge advocate.”
Mike is also well known as the leader of the Tupper Lake Honor Guard, which he joined in 1994 and became commander two years later and served in that leadership role until the present.
The following is Michael Larabie's address to the hometown crowd:
“Welcome to today’s ceremony and thank you for attending. I’m honored to be speaking with you today on such an important occasion. We’re here today to honor our service members and to remember the sacrifices they have made in honor of duty, honor, country.
“The Greek philosopher Thucydides once said, “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
“We’re here today to honor our heroes, to remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication, and to say thank you for their sacrifices. Thinking of the heroes who join us in this group today and those who are here only in spirit, a person can’t help but feel awed by the enormity of what we encounter. We stand in the midst of patriots and the family and friends of those who have nobly served.
“The service members we honor today came from all walks of life, but they shared several fundamental qualities. They possessed courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity – all the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than one’s self.
“Many of them didn’t ask to leave their homes to fight on distant battlefields. Many didn’t even volunteer. They didn’t go to war because they loved fighting. They were called to be part of something bigger than themselves. They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times. They rose to the nation’s call because they wanted to protect a nation which has given them, us, so much.
“Since the first shots at Lexington and Concord were fired and our Revolutionary War began, American men and women have been answering the nation’s call to duty.
“Millions of Americans have fought and died on battlefields here and abroad to defend our freedoms and way of life. Today our troops continue to make the ultimate sacrifices, and even as we lose troops, more Americans step forward to say, I’m ready to serve. They follow in the footsteps of generations of fine Americans.
“The idea for Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, arose from the ashes of the Civil War. Following the Civil War, at least 620,000 Americans, both Union and Confederate, had been killed and hundreds of thousands more were maimed. Through the course of the war, Americans had blasted at each other’s lines with cannons and burned cities and towns on our own soil. Americans had locked each other in prisoner of war camps and torn up the railroads connecting north to south.
“Homes, schools and churches from Antietam to Vicksburg were riddled with bullet holes. The war’s unprecedented carnage and destruction was on a scale not even imaginable a few years before, and it changed America’s view of war forever. From those dark times, it was the families who were honoring their dead that began to bring the light of reconciliation.
“Although there are different versions of how Memorial Day began, one story goes that the grieving families, both Northern and Southern, began decorating the graves of their lost soldiers with flowers and wreaths. In one city in Mississippi, people decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate troops, out of respect for the families of the Union Soldiers, and with the hope that someone would do the same for their lost loved ones in the North.
These informal honors led to the first formal Memorial Day observance in Waterloo, New York, on May 5th, 1866. Congress officially recognized Memorial Day as a federal holiday in 1887. Since then, with each passing year and subsequent conflicts, we’ve continued to honor our troops.
“We have awarded medals to many soldiers, added their names to monuments and named buildings for them, to honor them for their bravery. But nothing can ever replace the hole left behind by a fallen service member, and no number of medals and ribbons can comfort the ones left behind.
“I'd like to ask the service members and veterans who are here to stand.
“Thank you for answering the call to duty. You have made our armed forces the most respected in the world.
“Now I’d also like to ask the family member of any service member to stand. We know you have lived through difficult times and often taken the heavy load to keep the home fires burning. Thank you for what you’ve done.
“Today, people throughout the country will gather together to remember, to honor, and to pay gratitude to those who have served our country. Our gathering is just one small spark in the flame of pride that burns across the nation today and every day. It’s not a lot, but its one small way we can honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live in freedom.
“Your presence here today and that of the people gathering all across America is a tribute to those lost troops and to their Families. It is a way to say we remember. From the Soldiers who shivered and starved through the winter at Valley Forge to the doughboys crouched in the muddy trenches of France to the platoon who patrolled the hazy jungles of Vietnam and the young man or woman patrolling the mountains of Afghanistan, we remember and honor them all.
“Thank you for attending today. God bless you and your families, God bless our troops and God bless!” he concluded.
“Thank you for your service to our great country and to our wonderful community,” Mr. Tarbox said in thanking Mr. Larabie.
The high school band then erupted into a spirited medley of songs from each of the branches of the military. It's a performance everyone always enjoy and the young musicians didn't disappoint again this year.
What followed the rousing medley of familiar military pieces was the traditional laying of wreaths by a number of Tupper Lake groups and organizations, which included the local boy scout troop and cub scout pack, which were the first up to the monument to pay their respects to the fallen.
Other wreath-laying groups included the Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department, the department's ladies auxiliary andthe Village of Tupper Lake and the Town of Tupper Lake, the wreaths both placed by local youngsters.
Other wreaths came from the American Legion, the VFW, the Knights of Columbus, Moose Lodge 640, Sunmount DDSO, Mt. Arab Masonic Lodge, Sunmount CSEA, the Tupper Lake Honor Guard, Adirondack Leathernecks and Amvets Post 710.
The final wreath was placed by a collection of girl guides and girl scouts here who donated a case of Girl Scoutcookies to each of the five local veterans organizations.
That news brought loud applause from the crowd.
The Tupper Lake Honor Guard then performed its traditional firing of volleys, as some cupped their ears.
The high school band fired up for their third and final time performing “America the Beautiful” and “The Stars and Stripes.” A two-part “Taps” was also well performed by the father-daughter trumpet team of Wayne andKendall Davison.
The service concluded with a closing prayer by American Legion Chaplain James Ellis, a local deacon here.
The crowd was invited to the VFW post for refreshments following the ceremony.