Honoring and Drawing Strength From Our Veterans
Last Sunday morning, there was far more than a minute of silence at Rye’s Veterans Day Ceremonies. Our prayers were for those now serving our country.
Last Sunday morning, there was far more than a minute of silence at Rye’s Veterans Day Ceremonies. Our prayers were for those now serving our country. Oh, how proudly we gazed at our veterans and their families. Led by Commander George Szczerba, the members of American Legion Post 128 carried the day.
In his opening remarks, Mayor Doug French said, “As Mayor, there are many ceremonies that I am invited to, but few are more profound to me than to stand here with the veterans and heroes of Rye — the pillars of our community. Names like Dempsey, Saunders, and Somma. Each one of you represents a sense of patriotism — a sense of duty that is respected and admired by the rest of us. You continue to change the lives of those around you with your presence and ongoing commitment to serving others. And our community draws strength from your veteran leadership. And we need that strength – our children, our residents, and even our Mayor.”
The principal speaker, Gerald Culliton, Director of the VA Hudson Valley Healthcare System, spoke of the old-fashioned values and traditions that have made our country great and enduring and still ring true.
“Honored guests, clergy, elected officials, neighbors, friends, active service members, and veterans thank you for letting me speak to you for a couple of minutes about what today means, what role the VA plays in the lives of those men and women who need us, and what you as a community can do to remember the service and sacrifice of our nation’s heroes … many of whom are here with us today.
As Director of the VA, I like to tell our 1,500 employees in the Hudson Valley VA Healthcare System—which includes FDR Montrose VA Hospital, The Castle Point VA Hospital, and seven clinics in six Hudson Valley counties — that those of us who work in the VA don’t need a reminder of the service and sacrifice of veterans – we see it every single day. We treat the scars, the memories that won’t go away. We ease the pain, and help them to transition from battle mode to just being home.
However, what I always tell the staff is that even though our careers, our lives are spent on veterans’ recovery and health, I also feel it is our duty to be a beacon of light to the greater community, about how important it is to remember, honor, and respect veterans and service members.
I encourage all VA staff to take their kids and their grandkids to ceremonies and parades just like this one in their communities. I tell them, if your town doesn’t have a ceremony – go to the next town.
Ceremonies like this — the rifle salutes, the laying of a wreath, putting our hands over our hearts for the national anthem, the men and women in their veterans organization caps, the playing of Taps – may seem quaint, may seem old- fashioned, to some may seem out of date — but these American traditions will shape our future leaders.
These traditions are the glue that cements us to the previous generation and the engine that moves us to secure a spirit of sacrifice for our fellow citizens.
My father, a World War II Marine, 4th Division, served in four Pacific theatres including the battle on Iwo Jima. When he came home, as a citizen he made sure that I went to every parade in my town, that I worked by his side as he served in leadership in our local American Legion Post, that I put my hand over my heart when the flag passed by – those memories shaped me and molded my appreciation for the heroes that have kept us — the land of the free – and the home of the brave.
It was those veterans who served, that built the places like Montrose VA Hospital. We are truly blessed that veterans and elected leaders fought to make our VA right here in Westchester a reality – and our VA in Montrose has been serving this region since 1950 on the most beautiful 200 acres — overlooking the Hudson River and in Dutchess County at Castle Point, also a spectacular Hudson River location, since 1926.
Originally known as the Boscobel Estate, Eleanor Roosevelt was in attendance in 1950 and cut the ribbon for the hospital named after the creator of the modern VA, her husband Franklin.
Montrose is now a state-of-the-art facility with modern diagnostics, beautiful renovated patient centered spaces and cutting edge digital technology reaching into the community and right into veteran’s homes.
Today we are serving every era of veteran from the World War II veterans in their 90s to the 21-year-old girl – a veteran, who I met recently in the hallway, who just returned from two tours in Afghanistan, a little baby in her arms as she went to her clinic appointment.
Today’s veterans need us just as much as any other group of veterans of past days. They come home – they are young, they feel invincible. They want to go to work, be with their families, find a girlfriend, find a boyfriend, go to college, get back to the job and family they had to leave. They just want to get back to routine life.
However, some — not all — are struggling to reintegrate. They need more than the VA – they need all of you. An estimated 100,000 New Yorkers have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan. More are coming home each day.
They need to feel welcomed right here in Westchester County, they need to get into colleges and trade schools, they need good jobs, they need an affordable place to live – they need houses of worship and local governments to welcome them and reach out to them. And, yes, at some point, they may need services from the VA.
But many won’t come on their own. They will come when one of you takes them by the hand and tells them, ‘Maybe the VA can help you. Let’s go together and talk to them.’ And we will do our very best to meet their need.
I would ask my friends from Rye to take a moment today to remember our fallen heroes – and to remember the veterans who are with us now – those who live next door to you, who go to the same supermarket as you, who have their kids in daycare with yours, who serve on the police force and the fire department – also remember the veterans who cannot find work, the veterans who need care and healing, the veterans who have come home but are lonely and disconnected. And remember their families, no veteran sacrifices alone.
So today, take a minute and think: How can my community serve them and help the VA staff offer a helping hand? They too paid a price for our freedom; it is up to ALL of us to repay the debt.
This week a new movie about Abraham Lincoln premiered across the nation. I am reminded of Lincoln’s second inaugural address. In it he laid out the commitment of America and the mission statement of the VA…
‘With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us — to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’
And as we say today in the VA, ‘to care for him and her who shall have borne the battle…’
Thank you. God Bless you, and God Bless America.”
— Photos by Robin Jovanovich