‘Every time a person’s name is spoken, that person lives again’: Socially distant vet name reading at Rural Cemetery

Oswego Town Historian George DeMass, seen above, on Monday will lead a small ceremony at Oswego Town Rural Cemetery.

OSWEGO — For George DeMass, it’s important to recite each name and give them a moment.

As historian for Oswego Town, DeMass will help read the names of veterans from Oswego County — some dating as far back as the Revolutionary War — at the Oswego Town Rural Cemetery 11 a.m. Monday.

It won’t be the same as the usual Memorial Day ceremonies that have occurred over the last three-plus decades, which traditionally feature musical numbers and dozens of people in attendance, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It will still be a moment for the veterans.

“We think it’s important that the names still be read even without a formal ceremony,” DeMass said. “Every time a person’s name is spoken, that person lives again.”

DeMass said he expected a dozen or so people to attend the ceremony Monday. People can spread out throughout the cemetery or remain in the cars to be socially distant. The names will be read over a loudspeaker for anyone in the cemetery to hear.

DeMass handles the names from the Revolutionary War up until World War I, while Joseph Oleyourryk handles the names for the wars and conflicts after that.

Three wreaths are traditionally laid during the ceremony to honor Dr. Mary Walker, James Lee and  Elmina Spencer, but that will be done ahead of time, DeMass said.

Walker was a local women’s rights pioneer and the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. Lee earned the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, and Spencer was a battlefield nurse during the Civil War.

“We should never forget these people who sacrificed their lives,” DeMass said.

DeMass recalled receiving a letter 60 years ago — now in the historical archives — which was sent from a soldier back home to Oswego before the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864.

Seth Morrison’s is one of more than 150 names that will be read and remembered Monday.

“What’s interesting is he said in the letter he just couldn’t wait to get home,” DeMass said. “He came home in a wooden box. … Their stories still go on. Every time we mention a deceased person’s name those people live again and aren’t forgotten.”

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