Poland Residents Honor Veterans

KENNEDY – The sun shone bright and warm, glorious weather for a day meant to honor those who have made our lives possible. The hamlet of Kennedy was filled with spectators for the parade, and many made their way to Riverside Cemetery to attend the service of remembrance.

Leading off the parade was wreath bearer Robert Swanson, followed by the color guard from Randolph Legion Post 181. Master of Ceremonies Roland Swanson conveyed guest speaker James C. Johnson and his wife during the parade. Some veterans walked the parade route, while others rode on a float. Kennedy Fire Department Queen Kaitlin Caswell rode through the parade on “Junior,” the mini fire truck of the Kennedy Fire Department. Local youth carried historical flags along the parade route, and placed them in the cemetery for the service. George and Martha Washington again made their appearance, portrayed by Rick and Joan Swanson.

The Falconer Central School Band, under the direction of Jeffrey Camp, provided music and color guard to set the tone for the day. Several groups had floats in the parade, saluting our veterans. Riding in style in the beautiful white carriage of Cracker Jack Farms were this year’s honored guests, Jim and Sandy Sopak, Jim Carter, and Town Justice Judith Shields. Both Mr. and Mrs. Sopak have given many years of service to the community. Mr. Carter served 50 years with the Kennedy Fire Department, as well as other community groups. Justice Shields continues in her role of judge in the Town Court.

The beautiful weather brought out many classic cars for the procession. From a Model T to more recent models, the crowd enjoyed seeing these symbols of our progress. Several antique tractors were also in the parade, proudly displaying “Old Glory” as they passed by. Brothers By Choice and the Southern Tier Riders Motorcycle Club had their bikes in the parade.

The fire departments from Falconer, Frewsburg and Randolph sent some of their equipment to join with the Kennedy Fire Department, to the delight of everybody. Announcer Steve Swanson reminded all of the work these men and women do for their communities.

Several riders had their patriotically dressed horses in the parade as well. The horses were very well trained and were a credit to their owners. As the parade ended, Steve Swanson thanked both the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department and the New York State Police for providing cars to help keep the parade route clear during the event.

At Riverside Cemetery, Roland Swanson welcomed everyone, and introduced the officials and honored guests on the podium. All rose for the National Anthem, played by the Falconer Central School Band, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the invocation, given by Pastor Jennifer Delahoy of the Kennedy United Methodist Church. Pastor Delahoy acknowledged that the service was not only honoring those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also those who had served and those continuing to serve. Girls State Representative Emma Black then read Logan’s Orders, which was the beginning of Decoration Day. A musical tribute was then played by the Falconer Central School Band. Community youth placed flowers at the veterans memorial, along with George and Martha Washington. The Gettysburg Address was then read by Boys State Representative Lawrence Spangenburg Jr.

The featured address was given by James C. Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Robert H. Jackson Center. Having served in the U.S. Army, and in the Judge Advocate General’s office, as well as Chief of Prosecutions for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Johnson has a varied background that qualifies him to understand just what Memorial Day really means.

Opening his remarks, Johnson said he had turned on the television news in the morning, and the first story was about a celebrity wedding. The second was about where to get the best bargains today. He lamented that so many people didn’t seem to realize what this holiday is supposed to mean. When he and his wife served overseas, they were always part of remembrance services, because military members do understand what it is all about. It started as Decoration Day, to remember those from the Civil War. In 1882, the day was expanded to remember all who have served. He said when you listen to the news, you get concerned, and think maybe all of this has been forgotten.

“But you come here, you come to the town of Poland, and the hamlet of Kennedy, and you realize that that is not the case. That this is where America is, that this is what America is all about.”

He stated that it was “such a joy to be able to move to Jamestown and this area, Chautauqua County, and see that these things are not forgotten. That they’re still very, very important, that we understand what Memorial Day is all about. That we still have ceremonies at cemeteries around the country. That we still honor those who gave their lives, that we still lay wreathes and we still play ‘Taps’ and we still honor the values for which those soldiers stood for and died defending.”

He thanked everyone for giving him the honor to be able to join them in their Memorial Day celebration. He noted that people still serve today to protect these same ideals, and that we cannot take them for granted. Johnson noted that over history, America has lost over 2 million men and women in service to their country.He also told those assembled the meaning of the three rifle volleys at a service. It began at the battlefield, when the sides would pause to remove their dead and wounded from the field of combat. Each side would give the other a three-rifle volley to signal that they had completed that grim task. The fighting would then resume. Johnson then said that the number of casualties over the years was just a fraction of those affected by war. For each soldier, sailor, or other military person who was lost, parents, spouses, children, and others remained behind. He then asked what makes a soldier fight.

“Regardless of your reason for serving, there is one thing that permeates all of it, and that is the desire, and the willingness, and the sacrifice to protect what you hold dear. Whether that be to protect our freedoms, whether that be to protect our family, the values we live by. And we mustn’t forget that as Americans we often are willing to go out and protect others as well.”

Johnson said that we are often asked to help protect others who may not be Americans, but share our values.

“You see America-bashing all over the world, but let’s face it. When they’re in trouble, who do they call?”

He told those assembled not to let the America-bashing fool them. Having served overseas for many years, he has seen first-hand how others look to the United Stated as the protectors of freedom, and that they want to be like us. Johnson noted that there is currently an ongoing project at the Robert H. Jackson Center to record the stories of area veterans for future generations, so we do not forget.

Following Johnson, Common Ground performed a patriotic medley. Ruth Rowley read a roll call of the wars in which America has participated. Donna Dort then read the names of veterans who answered the last call since Memorial Day 2013. Robert Swanson placed a wreath at the veterans’ memorial. The Rev. Walter Venman of Clarks Corners Community Church gave the benediction. He noted that we come seeking understanding for the need for such sacrifice through the generations. He said to miss the opportunity for such a service of remembrance was a crime.

The salute to the dead followed. The Randolph Legion Post 181 firing squad gave the final volleys, and “Taps” was played by Falconer Central School trumpeter Danielle Casato. As the last stirring strains faded away, Robert Swanson raised the flag to full staff. Roland Swanson thanked everyone for attending. He closed with a recitation, “The War Department Regrets to Inform You.” This moving work tells of those who have fought and died in all the conflicts America has been in. Anyone could not help but be moved. We are the beneficiaries of the price paid by those who have gone before us. We honor them on Memorial Day.

Swanson asked those attending to take a moment at 3 p.m. for silence to honor those who sacrificed so much. He then said that Kennedy Pride would have a Flag Retirement Ceremony on June 18 to honorably retire flags that have completed their service. Anyone can bring a flag to the town hall in Kennedy to have it retired. All are welcome to attend the service.