There was no parade, and the crowds that usually cluster around the Memorial Walkway in Oneonta’s Neahwa Park were noticeably absent during the annual Memorial Day Celebration this morning. Above, Master of Ceremonies Les Grummons salutes as “Taps” is played for attendees, who brought wreathes and listened to a short speech from Mayor Gary Herzig. Following the ceremony, some members of the legion stopped by the home of John Forman, left, to salute him alongside fellow WWII veteran Fred Hicken. Returning to Legion Post 259, the veterans were surprised with complementary lunches from Brooks’ BBQ, courtesy of The Porch Fairies, anonymous donors who wanted to make sure veterans were honored. In addition to lunch, the Porch Fairies also dropped off gift cards for groceries for any veteran in need. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
The Oneonta Community Concert Band, above, held its 18th annual Salute To Veterans Concert in the halls of the Foxcare Center this evening. One audience member, 90-year-old Leslie Collins, right, was so moved by their performance of “The Armed Forces Salute” by Bob Lowden, he approached director Andrew Pease to ask if he could recite the poem, “For The Fallen,” by Lawrence Binyon. Pease obliged. The poem, written in 1914, is often recited at Remembrance Day events and has been claimed as a tribute to all casualties of World War I and all wars. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
GILBERTSVILLE – They might have attended rival high schools, but it didn’t mean they couldn’t be friends.
Veterans Ralph Wright and Andrew Sebeck first met one another at the Gilbertsville American Legion Post 1339 in 1971, when Sebeck and wife Anne moved to the area.
They found camaraderie in Gilbertsville through volunteering with the local fire department and socializing at events such as the annual Fourth of July parade and soon realized that they had more in common than just a military background – they shared a high school rivalry.
Andrew had gone to school at South New Berlin and Ralph went to Laurens, just 20 minutes apart.
“I’m drawing attention to the fact that veterans are not alone,” says Butternuts Town Historian Leigh Eckmair, who works directly with veterans to create projects that aim to educate parents and their children on the importance of local history.
As they approach the 100th anniversary of the American Legion, both couples look back on that time and reflect on what it meant to serve their country.
The Gilbertsville American Legion Post 1339 will observe its 85th anniversary alongside the 100th anniversary of the American Legion this Sunday, Nov. 10, at 3 p.m. The ceremony, which includes presentations by the local Boy Scout troop, as well as the commander of the American Legion William Wright, will be followed by a lasagna dinner at 4 p.m.
The two vets had also married their high school sweethearts within a year of one another, the Sebecks in November 1962, and the Wrights just a year later, in November 1963.
It was fall of 1962, when Andrew called his soon-to-be wife from his base of operations in Virginia.
“Cancel the wedding,” he told her. The couple had planned to get married during his normal week-long leave that fall, but it was the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the country was on high alert.
“There was so much uncertainty,” recalls Anne, “You didn’t know who the enemy was,” but she understood nonetheless.
At the time Andrew was serving with the Army as a military police officer, which meant that he might be needed at anytime. “You respect where they are and what they’re doing,” Anne said. “If he said no, there was a reason.”
He was given two days for the wedding and they ended up getting married on Nov. 10, just before Veterans Day.
Ralph and Carolee Wright were married one year later. It was Nov. 23, 1963, the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The country was in shock and there was speculation as to what had happened.
“Most people were glued to their black & white TVs,” says Carolee.
When they drove up to the Adirondacks for their honeymoon, they discovered that all of the businesses were closed.
But none of these obstacles managed to deter the couples, who have been committed to their marriages and the local Legion since the beginning.
“We worked hand in hand,” says Anne, “whatever the legion was doing, we would support.”
From blood drives, to bake sale fundraisers, to helping fill Christmas stockings, the auxiliary has been helping the Gilbertsville American Legion for years.
“We try to serve our community, we try to serve our youth,” she said.
The Legion was originally dedicated to veterans of World War I, but over the years the American Legion has developed into a highly influential nonprofit group that serves veterans, servicemen, and communities around the world. With nearly 2 million members, the legion acts as a reminder of the importance of respect.
“It continues your pride in your country and the men who served,” says Anne, who hopes that people won’t forget about veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made.”
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 7
COUNTRY LIVING FEST – 1 p.m. Celebrate country life with vendors, cornhole tournament (1-6:30), pumpkin patch, farmers’ market, more. Includes demonstrations on backyard beekeeping, floral arrangements, fly fishing, cider pressing, metal detecting, more. Kallan Fields, Well’s Ave., Hartwick. 607-293-8123 or visit www.facebook.com/TownofHartwick/
by LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to AllOTSEGO.com
Gene Schmidt, the father of Neahwa Park’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, believes you shouldn’t just honor our nation’s defenders on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
“We can’t honor our veterans enough,” he said. “We owe so much of what we have to what they did for us.”
So now, Schmidt has arranged for the Army’s 10th Mountain Division Jazz Band to play a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at SUNY Oneonta’s Alumni Field House.“I wanted to have a real military band come to Oneonta,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time we had one play.”
In the ’70s, Gene’s brother-in-law, Tim DeCastro, played horns in the Air Force Band. “He was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base (in New Jersey), so he would schedule the band to play up here so he and his wife could see her family,” he said.
Schmidt reached out to several military bands, including the Air Force and Navy ones, before getting in touch with the Watertown-based 10th Mountain Division band.
The band will play patriotic marches and anthems from all the military branches. “It’s going to be a lot of different music, from World War II to today,” he said. “So everyone will be able to appreciate the songs.”
And during the concert, Schmidt will ask the veterans in the audience to stand and be recognized. “And I want to ask the people sitting next to them to shake their hands, give them a hug, and thank them for their service.”
A Vietnam veteran himself, Schmidt spearheaded a fundraising campaign to raise $6,000 for a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Neahwa Park to honor the nine Oneonta soldiers who were killed in action. The monument was dedicated Memorial Day 2016.
In 2017, he brought the “Wall that Heals” – a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. – to Neahwa Park over Memorial Day weekend.
“As often as we can, we need to honor them,” he said. “Let’s fill up the field house for our veterans.”
As two eagles circled, Oneonta’s Memorial Day celebration was conducted this morning at the memorial at the end of Veterans’ Memorial Walkway before the start of the parade. American Legion Commander Gary Ballard, top photo, oversees Troop 23 Boy Scouts Giovanni Hromada, Ben Casola, Kaleb Bergeron, Andrew Pierce, Caneb Casey and Noah Miller as they place wreaths at stations marking the different branches of the military. At right, OHS Valedictorian Aben Carrington recites Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address alongside Master of Ceremonies Les Grummons, to the crowds gathered in the park. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
With 100 years since the end of World War I, and 99 since President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the event with Armistice Day, veterans gathered today at Veterans Memorial Walkway in Neahwa Park in observance of Veterans’ Day. Above, Wayne Gregory, Oneonta, plays ‘Taps” as a worn American Flag is ceremoniously retired and burned during the ceremony. Inset at right, Oneonta Legion Commander Gary Ballard and Tom McMillen, front, lead the rifle detail, Jim Williams, Conesville, Bertie White, Oneonta, Terry Harkenreader, Oneonta, and Perry Martin, Hell’s Hollow, along with members of the Color Guard Gary Walters, Oneonta, and Barry Townsend, Oneonta, down the Memorial Walkway. “A Veteran’s character is shaped by their experiences,” said Ballard, ” A veteran stands for something greater than themselves. On this day we remind ourselves how these men and women set aside their civilian pursuits to serve their nations’ cause. Defending the freedoms of mankind and preserving our precious American Heritage.” (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
The Catskill Symphony Orchestra held a Veterans Day performance this afternoon in the Hunt Union Ballroom at SUNY Oneonta. Above, guest Conductor Timothy Perry, Binghamton, leads the orchestra and the audience in “The Star Spangled Banner” as a salute to upcoming Veterans Day, Sunday, Nov. 11. At right, Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich, right, and Beth Steele, the college’s director of Advancement Communications, watch Dave Irvin, East Meredith, play the double bass during the opening number. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for SATURDAY, AUGUST 4
ART & MUSIC – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Outdoor street festival featuring outstanding regional artists, crafters, musicians, writers, more. Main St., Oneonta. 607-432-2070 or visit cityofthehillsartsfestival.com
O-COUNTY FAIR – 8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. See best Otsego County has to offer. Daily shows, rides, more. Highlights include equestrian Gymkhana, bicycle giveaway, truck pull, livestock parade of champions, Supreme Champion Showmanship, talent contest, more. Otsego County Fair, Mills St., Morris. 607-263-5289 or visit www.otsegocountyfair.org
The American Legion Color Guard – from left, Gary Walters, Gary Ballard, Tony Moore, Wayne Gregory, Terry Harkenreader and Harry Martin – marches down Main Street. during the Memorial Day parade this morning in Oneonta. They are followed by the rifle detail from Fort Drum that volunteered for the occasion, under the direction of Sgt. Ericson Brenner, son of Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner. Following the parade, crowds gathered at the Veterans’ Memorial in Neahwa Park for services honoring fallen soldiers, veterans and their families. At right, OHS Valedictorian Teagan Mackey recites Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to the crowd, including Lincoln look-alike Pete Lindemann, Cobleskill, foreground, who was dressed as the former President for the occasion. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
In Oneonta, the rain broke just in time for the Memorial Day parade and service in Neahwa Park this morning. Here, Color Guard members Gary Ballard, Gary Walters, and Wayne Gregory, all of Oneonta, and Chris Proctor and Harry Martin, both of Otego, await the start of the service. At right, Cliff Eaglefeathers, Bloomville, who served in the Army from 1967-69, wore his headdress as he marched in the parade to honor his Native American heritage. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)