By Miriam Longobardi • Photos by Sam Morell
To many people Memorial Day means a long weekend, family barbeques and spending time with friends. American flags are put up all throughout town as well as on the graves of over two hundred soldiers buried in North Castle. Maintaining the flags at the graves is a tradition that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Still, over the years fewer people are taking the time to actually reflect on the true meaning of the holiday.
American Legion Post 1097 in Armonk has a Memorial Day Ceremony each year at their site next to the police station and it is open to the public. Veteran Tony Cicia shared that this event used to draw thousands of people, but the crowd has grown considerably smaller over the years–down to approximately one hundred fifty people–and this concerns him. “The trouble is, the world forgets,” he said.
The Memorial Day Ceremony includes many town groups, such as the Elks Club, Eagle Scouts and the Civil Air Patrol as the color guard. The Byram Hills band plays patriotic music and veterans are honored. Representatives from the State Assembly, the State Senate and the State Legislature attend, as well as North Castle Town Supervisor Michael Schiliro. Supervisor Schiliro said, “North Castle tradition is to celebrate Memorial Day on May 30th, the actual Memorial Day versus the Monday observance. I look forward to the ceremony at the American Legion each year. At the end of the ceremony I always enjoy a hot dog and a cold drink.” Each year the names of memorialized solders are read, wreaths are laid on the veterans memorials at the Legion, and there is a guest speaker.
Last year, 93 year-old Marine Colonel Alfred Ciafli, a World War II veteran and survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima, among others, was the guest speaker. His candid accounts of what it was actually like to serve there, the horrors of death and the arduous conditions under which he fought, kept the audience in mesmerized silence. “Many people in the audience were moved to tears as he spoke,” said Cicia.
In addition to the many people and groups involved in the ceremony, some other very special guests are in attendance–veterans from Montrose Veterans Hospital arrive by bus to attend this event. This year, the Elks Club is teaming up with the American Legion because they, too, are closely involved in working with veterans.
Elks Club president Ed Flynn said, “We had a similar ceremony planned and we were inviting the veterans from Montrose also and then we decided to team up with the Legion and merge ceremonies.” The Elks have a long-standing relationship with the veterans, visiting as often as possible. The Elks go up to Montrose for barbeques or pizza parties during the summer, have a holiday party each year where members donate and buy gifts for them, or just to visit throughout the year. “We never want to forget all that they did and we want to honor them,” Flynn added. Elks members have the opportunity to donate to the veterans as part of their annual dues, and a lot of money is raised for them each year from dues alone.
Including the veterans from Montrose Hospital at the Memorial Day Celebration is a tradition that has grown, and this year two bus loads will come, bringing about 75 people. The ceremony at the American Legion is open to the public and held in the front yard of their building in a large open area covered for shelter. Out back, barbeque food and drinks are available for anyone that comes. Following the public ceremony, the visiting veterans are taken inside and served a hot meal. “They love to get out and take part in this special day,” Flynn pointed out. He said working with the patients from Montrose has been a great opportunity to get to know veterans of all ages and histories ranging from World War II to the Korean War, and from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War. Hearing their stories and visiting with them shows that their efforts have neither been in vain nor forgotten.
This year’s ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 30th at 11 a.m. at the American Legion Post 1097, 35 Bedford Road, Armonk. Again, this ceremony is open to the public and refreshments are served. When people hear actual accounts from the mouth of someone who fought, it brings a greater appreciation for all our country’s soldiers, especially the ones who gave their lives in service to our country. As Tony Cicia said, “The most important thing is remembering the dead and why they died.” Please take some time to stop by and remember those who gave their lives and honor other veterans.
Miriam Longobardi is a freelance writer, fourth grade teacher and single mother of two daughters living in Westchester. A breast cancer survivor, she volunteers for the American Cancer Society and has completed four marathons and travels the world. Follow her on Twitter@writerMimiLong.