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Community gathers to remember the fallen

Dan McClelland

by Ian Roantree

After the end of the American Civil War, a conflict that saw more casualties than any other that the United States has been involved in since, American communities began holding tributes during this time of year to honor those who had fallen in result of that four year-long war.

Despite the sides that those men fought on and the banners and flags they flew, each life that was lost was an American one.

Originally observed as Decoration Day, by 1971 it evolved to Memorial Day and was officially recognized as a federal holiday to honor and commemoration of those who sacrificed their lives in service with the United States Armed Forces.

In the late morning of Monday, May 27, in continuance of a long-time tradition, the Tupper Lake community congregated at the Tupper Lake War Memorial to take witness to the annual Memorial Day ceremony that was hosted by the VFW Post 3120.

While onlookers watched from the street, veterans and former service men and women flanked the memorial while community members and organizations patiently awaited to place their wreaths at the foot of the memorial and to pay their respects to those who have fallen.

The Master of Ceremonies that morning was Tracy Luton, commander of VFW Post #3120, who opened the ceremonies and introduced the speakers who made their remarks.

In usual tradition, Rev. Rick Wilburn led the opening prayer. As hats were removed and heads lowered he said, “As we approach Memorial Day, may we honor and remember those who died that we might live in freedom. We remember our departed loved ones gone on before. Those who we honor will be in our lives forever.”

The Tupper Lake Band proceeded to play The Star Spangled Banner, followed by the crowd’s saying of the Pledge of Allegiance, led by members of Boy Scout Troop 23.

The guest speaker of the ceremony wasn’t a veteran or service member as typical of such an event. “Usually we have a veteran come up and speak for us, but this year we decided to have an elected official,” explained Commander Luton.

“We wanted to get a different perspective and somebody that has been here her entire life. She’s someone who served on the town board, someone who has worked here in the village and has served and volunteered in this community.”

“I would like to thank the VFW and Commander Tracy Luton for bestowing this incredible honor upon me on this Memorial Day,” began Supervisor Patti Littlefield. “It was without reservation that I accepted the invitation to make comments here today.

“I’d like to thank you all for joining us; to stand in front of this monument in recognition and honor of all our loved ones who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to this nation is very moving.”

One of the most compelling thing about Memorial Day, Supervisor Littlefield pointed out, is that nearly each and every person at that service knows someone, whether it be a family member or a friend, who is serving at this very moment, or who has served in the past.

“I would like to recognize all those servicemen and women among us who have served or are currently serving in all of the branches of our military, as well as any of you here who may have lost a loved one in service.

“We are humbled by your sacrifices as we know they are great. We commend the demonstrations of courage and strength that you have no doubt shown throughout the most difficult of times.

“We must remember that Memorial Day is the day that we remember our heroes who have gone to combat and have not returned and the ones who have died here at home. We are forever thankful for what they have done.

“So much pride is felt by many families right here in Tupper Lake, let alone the county. Memorial Day is a day to remember our own fallen and those who served with them and to say thank you.

“Over a million men and women have died in wartime throughout the span of our nation’s history. This, of course, does not even begin to take into account those who were wounded or went missing. That number is closer to three million.

“Those number should truly humble us, as they represent people—individuals who were brothers, husbands, mothers, sister and friends. These were people woven into the fabric of communities across the nation and here in Tupper Lake. They were loved, they were mourned and they are missed.

“As a fifth generation Tupper Laker, I realize more every year just how beautiful it is here and how we who live and work here year after year do tend to take it all for granted.

“John M. Sparks, the man who instilled in me a sense of community and country, a man who passed away nearly 41 years ago was a Marine, a Staff Sergeant in Korea. His eldest son, my brother, William J. Sparks is a Navy veteran who served during the Middle East conflict. They were some of the lucky ones who came home.

“There are many of you who can relate to your family members and friends who were also so lucky. I hope and pray for all of you who have loved ones in the military today that they too are the lucky ones who come home safely.

“May all of our fallen rest peacefully. May all of us find peace and understanding in their sacrifice and that the America that they so loved and protected and gave their life for is forever worthy...we will never forget you.

After Supervisor Littlefield’s speech, the Tupper Lake Band performed a service medley of Ballad of the Green Berets and Marches of the Armed Forces.

After the vibrant musical numbers the ceremonial laying of the wreaths took place. Wreaths were laid by Girl Scouts of the North Country New York, Tupper Lake Service Unit, 454 represented by Cadette Troops 4170 and 4123, Knights of Columbus Council 2177, Sunmount and DDSO, the Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department, the Tupper Lake Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, the Village of Tupper Lake, the Town of Tupper Lake, American Legion Post 220, Tupper Lake Honor Guard, Adirondack Leatherneck 1268 Marine Corps. League, Amvets Post 710, Amvets Ladies Auxiliary, VFW Post 3120 and Woodmen Lodge.

The laying of the wreaths was followed by the Honor Guard’s three-round rifle volley, led by Honor Guard Commander Mike Larabie.

After the rifle volley, Tupper Lake high school student and trumpeter, Shannon Soucy, performed the ceremonial solo-trumpet piece, Taps.

The band then followed with another Memorial Day standard, Stars Over America.

The closing prayer and remarks to end the ceremony were said by Jim Ellis.

He said, “very soon we will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of D-Day: June 6, 1944. On that day, young Americans, Canadians and British stormed ashore. The hottest sector was in the U.S. sector at Omaha Beach.

“Six thousand young men were given their service and their lives at the end of that day. Let us always remember that. Let us remember that our country has existed for over 200 years and it’s because of the sacrifice of people like them. Over one and a quarter million of whom gave their lives on the battlefield and as pointed out by our speaker, about three million total who may have been shortened in their lives because of the wounds they received and the missing in action.

“This never would have happened if our land had not been blessed by God, the Father Almighty and the Holy Spirit. We pray in the name of Jesus the Lord that it continues and that our young people present here today, will remember not so much the fact that we have thinning hair, gray locks, our steps a little uncertain. But for all of us here, I’m sure that I say, we love our friends who have given their lives, many of whom we knew.”