Crowd gathers at county’s salute to veterans

Dave Andryshak (left) hands a wreath to Sgt. Major Van Wagner of the Minisink Valley Junior ROTC program. Mr. Andryshak is the superintendent of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Cemetery, where volunteers decorated graves on Dec. 16 in observance of Wreaths Across America.

Dave Andryshak (left) hands a wreath to Sgt. Major Van Wagner of the Minisink Valley Junior ROTC program. Mr. Andryshak is the superintendent of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Cemetery, where volunteers decorated graves on Dec. 16 in observance of Wreaths Across America.

Dave Andryshak had a message for the crowd gathered around the monument at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery. He said there are two deaths. The first occurs when we breathe for the final time. The second occurs when we are no longer remembered.

As the superintendent of the cemetery, Mr. Andryshak said his goal was to make sure that the “second death” never comes to the veterans who are buried there. Before handing out wreaths to the volunteers, he asked them to pause at each grave, read the name of the interred, and say it aloud.

On Saturday, Dec. 16, Orange County took part in Wreaths Across America for the first time. A notice from the county executive suggested that people arrive at the cemetery in Goshen at 11:30 a.m. for a ceremony that would begin at noon.

“Why so early?” we wondered. But the county executive was right. By 11:30 it was tough to find a parking spot. The Goshen Fire Police stopped traffic and directed visitors into the Little League complex across the road from the cemetery. From there, everyone walked.

When it was time to gather at the monument, we estimated the crowd at close to 300 people. The folks in the front had a good view, but no protection from the winter wind that whipped across the graveyard.

The Sheriff’s Department provided the color guard, and members of the Minisink Valley Junior ROTC stood at attention on either side of the podium. Christian Farrell, the county’s director of Veterans Services, welcomed the guests, and quoted President Ronald Reagan in his opening remarks. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” he said. “We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

Appropriately, the audience included members of every generation — from kids to octogenarians. Some people had come to place wreaths at a family member’s grave. Others were there to honor veterans they didn’t know.

Wreaths Across America began in 1992 with a donation from the Worcester Wreath Company that was used to decorate the older sections of Arlington National Cemetery. Today, the event is observed nationwide on the third Saturday of December.

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Ken Cashman