by Ian Roantree
On Monday’s warm bright morning, community members and local veterans came together to participate in the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Tupper Lake War Memorial. They came together to honor those who have fallen in the line of duty and made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedom and safety of Americans here at home.
Monday’s ceremony was lead by American Legion Commander Mark Moeller.
Moeller, standing behind a VFW podium, welcomed everyone who attended the service on behalf of the American Legion Post 220, VFW Post 3120, AMVETS Post 710, Adirondack Leatherneck Marine Corps League and the Tupper Lake Honor Guard.
After Commander Moeller’s opening remarks, he invited the Rev. Rick Wilburn to the microphone to lead the opening prayer.
After amens were said from all in attendance, the Tupper Like Middle High School band performed the Star Spangled Banner.
Boy Scout Troop 23 and Cub Scout Pack 23 led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Commander Moeller returned to the podium to introduce and invite the VFW Post 3120 latest, and first ever female Commander, Tracy Luton, who was also the ceremony’s guest speaker, to approach the podium.
To some, many people would know Tracy Luton as a mom, a dental assistant, or the lady at the VFW, or even as the woman who speaks her mind, sometimes too much. “I’m still learning,” Tracy said.
From 1987 to 1992, Petty Officer 3rd Class Tracy Luton served in the United States Navy as a Machinist aboard the USS Samuel Gompers (AD-37), a 645 foot Destroyer Tender. On that ship, Tracy was one of the approximate 300 females aboard. With around 1000 men aboard, “needless to say, I was the minority,” she said.
During her time with the navy, Tracy sailed the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. She’s been to the Persian Gulf, Dubai, Bahrain, the Philippines, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Japan. She was initiated into the Shellback Society, a long standing naval tradition of when “pollywogs” cross the equator at sea.
In 2005, Tracy joined the VFW, then the Tupper Lake Honor Guard in 2010. For the several years, she served as the First Vice Commander of the VFW under Ray Tarbox, and just this spring, she was elected as the first female commander of the VFW Post 3120.
Even with her naval accomplishments (which include the Battle Efficiency Ribbon, Humanitarian Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment ribbon, Southwest Asia Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Navy Unit Commendation and Good Conduct Medal) and her work with the local veterans associations, Tracy’s greatest accomplishments are her three daughters, Paige, Amie and Shannon and her granddaughter, Brooklynn. “They have made me so proud and I’m so glad God chose me to be their mom and grandmother,” she said.
She continued, “I was born in a small town not much bigger than Tupper Lake. I was raised in Central Square, N.Y. I have three older brothers and I assure you they never took mercy on me. They treated me like one of the boys. My parents did the best they could for what they had. My dad raised us with a strict hand while mom kept things as calm as possible.”
Tracy wasn’t the first member in her family to join the United States Military, and she knew from a young age that she would serve her country.
“My dad was a Marine,” she said. Her dad’s brother and her Uncle Robert “Bob” Catherman was a Marine too, both of them having served in Vietnam.
“My dad came home,” she said, “but my Uncle did not.”
Tracy’s Uncle Bob was killed in action in 1968 when his platoon was ambushed in the middle of the night.
“He gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom as did so many young men and women.”
Tracy never knew her Uncle Bob personally, but nonetheless, he made a huge impact on her life having heard his story of how he was killed and how brave he must have been. “I grew up listening to my grandparents talk about my uncle and how they missed and grieved him. I couldn’t imagine the terror in those young soldiers’ eyes.”
Tracy’s Uncle Bob was only 19 when he died.
Tracy said, “the silver lining to this story is that 15 or so years later, my grandparents received a call from a man and asked if their son was Robert Catherman and whether he served in Vietnam. This man said, ‘I have been looking for you for years and I have something that belong to you that was your son’s. He came and met with them. He brought with him a shoebox with some pictures, letters, one dog tag, and some other things that belonged to my Uncle Bob. My grandmother said that day made her heart fill with such joy because she got to touch him again.”
“Memorial Day to me is my Uncle Bob, but not only my uncle, but all the uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and most important, the sons and daughters who gave their lives, the ultimate sacrifice, so we could have our freedom. It’s also to remember all who served our great country, who have departed even if they didn’t die while in the service.”
As Mrs. Luton finished her speech, members of the community began the ceremonial laying of the wreaths.
Wreaths were laid at the memorial by the following community organizations: Boy Scouts of America Troop 23 and Cub Scout Pack 220, Girl Scouts of Northeastern NY, Tupper Lake’s Service Unit 454, represented by Cadette Troops 4170 and 4123, Knights of Columbus Council #2177, the staff of Sunmount, Tupper Lake Central School District, Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department and the Ladies Auxiliary, the Village of Tupper Lake, the Town of Tupper Lake, the American Legion Post 220, the Tupper Lake Honor Guard, the Adirondack Leathernecks #1268 Marine Corps League, Amvets Post 710 and the VFW Post 3120.
After the laying of the wreaths, Mike Larabie, Commander of the Tupper Lake Honor Guard initiated the three-round rifle volley, another ceremonial ritual of Memorial Day. The members of the Honor Guard are Ray Tarbox, Tracy Luton, Joe Leblanc, Ray Bigrow and Kodata Britton.
After the thunderous shots from the honor guard, the crowd at the war memorial fell silent, as a Tupper Lake High School student performed the bugle call, Taps, followed by a performance of a medley of patriotic songs from each of the military’s service branches. Year after year, those students perform so well.
Finally, Deacon Jim Ellis ended the ceremony with a closing prayer, as the Rev. Rick Wilburn did to open the ceremony.
Ellis started, “on this monument are nearly 40 men who have given their lives in defense of our country. They’re Tupper Lake natives, each of them, from World War I through to Vietnam. By the numbers, 400,000 women have served in our armed forces. We appreciate them and we appreciate the mothers who stayed behind and took care of their families in a time when we didn’t recognize the value of our women in the armed forces. Up in the Tupper Lake cemetery, over to the left, towards the rear in the fourth quadrant, you’ll find white tombstones that remind you of Arlington, these are the bodies of the men that we have been entrusted with from the days at Sunmount when it was a veteran’s hospital. We don’t forget them, as veterans we decorate their graves with the colors of our nation. This day is specially hard for those of us who have lost good friends, friends that I drank beer with, friends that I played cribbage with. May god have mercy on all of their souls, and may they be rewarded for their sacrifices they made on our behalf so that we’re able to celebrate this day. We also ask Lord, that you inspire us to be both Americans and those who worship their God. We thank you for all these blessings. We ask your benediction in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.”
by Ian Roantree