OSWEGO COUNTY — Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country was the theme of Friday POW/MIA and remembrance ceremonies held in Oswego and Fulton.
Friday was National POW, MIA Recognition Day, an annual remembrance established by the U.S. Congress in 1998 to be held on the third Friday of September. The annual event honors and recognizes U.S. prisoners of war and individuals missing in action.
The city of Oswego held a POW/ MIA event Friday evening at the Fort Ontario State Historic Site. The Oswego event featured several guest speakers, a ceremonious watch fi re, a moment of silence and more. Guest speakers included city Councilor Kevin Hill, R-3rd Ward, county Legislator Bradley Trudell, R-Mexico, and Thank a Service Member (TASM) Inc. Executive Director Peter Allen.
“I am pleased to be partnering with Thank A Service Member, Inc. and its Executive Director Peter Allen, to offer the community a way to observe and honor the commitment and sacrifices made by this nation’s prisoners of war and those who are still missing in action,” Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said in a statement.
Hill said he could not think of a better way to spend “such a beautiful day,” telling the crowd “it’s our obligation to make sure we recognize everything (veterans) do and today there is no better way to recognize our military than to properly handle and dismantle one of our greatest symbols of democracy and country.”
Members from the Oswego Fire Department lit more than 80 wooden pallets outfitted with American Flags “not-fi t-for-service” donated from county residents, according to Allen. The massive flames towered toward the sky and warmed the air throughout the scene. Allen hopes to make similar watch fire events an annual tradition in the city for its residents.
The Fulton Veterans Council’s event saw veterans, city leaders, members of the police and fire departments, and community members gathered at Veterans’ Park across from the Fulton Municipal Building to show their respect and pay tribute to prisoners of war, those service members missing in action, and first responders who gave their lives during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Each year on National POW/MIA Recognition Day, we recognize and honor those Americans who were prisoners of war for their courage and the determination they showed in the face of unspeakable hardship. We also honor those who did not return, especially remembering the sacrifice of their families who must face each day without knowing the fate of their loved ones,” said Brittney Jerred, representing Assemblyman Will Barclay. “Let us pause and give thanks to those who never returned and pray they know they’re not forgotten.”
The ceremony was led by Donna Kestner of the Fulton Veterans Council. After an opening prayer by Rev. George Reed, Kestner asked those attending to pause for a moment of silence in memory of former Fulton 5th Ward councilor Norman “Jay” Foster, who died recently.
Foster’s daughter Kaylee then sang the national anthem, and Kestner led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Pat Kush, a retired history teacher whose father served in the Navy, noted that last year was the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. This POW/MIA ceremony was not held last year because of COVID-19, but Kush wanted to make sure this anniversary was noted. She pointed out there were more than 120,000 American POWs during World War II.
Mayor Deana Michaels addressed the crowd. She said she has a history of family members who served in the armed forces, but said she never lost any family member that served.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what it means to lose somebody in the line of duty serving our country, serving our communities,” she said.She added that others she knows have lost loved ones serving our country.
“That’s where I learn is from the stories of those who were impacted the most,” she said. “Thank you to our veterans, to all the agencies and councils who come together to remind us of this message every year. We can’t lose sight of why we’re here, why we are able to stand here and talk about it, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That includes those who were lost in 9/11. To our fire and police (departments), thank you for all that you do for our community, for keeping us safe and making sure that our community understands the importance of the work that you do. “We can’t ever forget.”
Mary Ann Reitano is the cousin of Master Sgt. Gregory Harris of Fulton. Harris was serving as a radio technician in Vietnam and in 1966 was captured by enemy soldiers. According to Marine Corps records, Harris died in captivity.
Reitano represented Harris’ family at the ceremony and placed a POW/MIA Remembrance Wreath at Harris’ memorial plaque at the park in front of a tree dedicated in his honor.
“Just know that our family is proud of the sacrifice that Greg made,” Reitano said.
Mayor Michaels and members of the Fulton Common Council then placed another POW/MIA Remembrance Wreath at the 9/11 monument.
Ray Caprin, past district deputy from the Fulton Elks Lodge, lighted the 9/11 candle and spoke of the terrorist attacks that happened 20 years ago.
“As a nation, we were shook to the core. We watched helplessly and in horror,” he said. “Following 9/11, we came together as Americans. We hugged our neighbors. We were willing to lend a hand with nothing expected in return. The American flag was flown everywhere with pride. We should remember that brotherhood and decency toward those around us is free. We should spread the same positive message today as we did 20 years ago."
“Our country has endured the loss of many who went to fight for our freedoms. For some, we are aware of their fate and have been able to lay them to rest and give them the recognition they deserve. Some are still missing, presumed to be deceased, with no closure brought to the families. Some were taken as POWs enduring unthinkable torture and unsure if they would ever see their families again.”
“It is our duty to show the utmost respect and appreciation for all of those who continue to serve this great nation of ours,” Caprin continued. “To the families of those who were killed and presumed deceased, we thank every one of these individuals for their service.”
Members of Fulton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #569 passed out remembrance candles, which were then lighted as Kaylee Foster sang, “America the Beautiful.”
Kestner held up her candle and said, “In honor of all that we’ve lost, our POWs, MIA, this is a symbol of the fact that we remember.”
James Karasek, a member of the Oswego County Legislature representing District 22 (portions of Granby and Fulton), spoke to the crowd. He said it is important that we don’t forget those POWs and those missing in action and “the cost that is paid for us to be free.”
Members of the honor guard — Jim DeGolyer, Bob LaRock, and Bruno Kramarz from VFW Post #569 — fired a gun salute, and Kramarz played taps in a solemn tribute.
After the closing prayer by Rev. Reed, Kaylee Foster all those in attendance in the singing of “God Bless America.”