Crowd ignores rain, hears Memorial Day stories

It was too wet to use a microphone, so guests moved up front, and mingled with volunteers in uniform, so they could hear.

It was too wet to use a microphone, so guests moved up front, and mingled with volunteers in uniform, so they could hear.

Since World War I, Orange County has lost 832 residents in battle. But we remember more than numbers on Memorial Day. We remember the stories.

This year’s observance was held in the rain. It was too wet to use a microphone. So American Legion Commander Peter Kurpeawski asked the crowd to gather around him — rather than stand across the street behind the rows of firefighters.

And in spite of the weather, there was a crowd. Judy Rothman and Tom Quinlan shared an umbrella as they received medals and plaques from the legion commander. Mrs. Rothman was a Red Cross volunteer in the combat zone during the Vietnam War. Mr. Quinlan has been a legion member for 42 years, and has served as both a post and a county commander.

He joined the legion at the same time as Ed Moulton, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who was the guest speaker for the day.

It was familiar ground for the Village resident who was part of the Memorial Day program during the years he was mayor. After recalling his legion days — meeting in what is now the judge’s quarters in Town Hall — Mr. Moulton shared a story from 1969.

He had just been promoted to lieutenant colonel when he became senior officer in charge because the unit commander was reassigned.

“During a typical mission,” Mr. Moulton said, “I received word that one of our aircraft was missing… After search and rescue efforts were unsuccessful, the aircraft and crew were declared lost…. I had to visit the crew’s families and tell them that their husbands and dads would not be coming home.

“Believe me, it was one of the most difficult tasks I ever had to do.”

Pete Kurpeawski shared a more recent story of Staff Sgt. Mark DeAlencar who had struggled to lose weight so he could serve his country as a Green Beret. The staff sergeant died in Afghanistan on April 8 — a few days before he was due to return home to celebrate one daughter’s birthday and another daughter’s high school graduation.

Mayor Brendan Coyne led the singing of “God Bless America.” Supervisor Richard Randazzo assisted in the presentation of medals. County Legislator Kevin Hines reminded people to have a “reflective” rather than a “happy” Memorial Day.

Master Sgt. Fletcher Bailey led the cadets from NYMA, who marched in the parade and provided the rifle salute. In addressing the crowd, he referred to the people we lost in combat. “We can’t bring them back,” he said, “but we can continue what they started”.

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Ken Cashman