Soldiers, community members and civilian employees gathered Friday to honor the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans during the annual Veterans Day observance at Memorial Park.
Members of the color guard – each wearing a different Army combat uniform representing past and current wars – stood stoically in front of the Military Mountaineers Monument.
After the playing of the national anthem, Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Oldroyd, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser, and several community veterans placed a wreath at the base of the monument.
“On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, World War I came to an end,” Milley said. “The bloodletting in Europe that destroyed the lives of 50 percent of the males (under the age of 25) in Europe came to an end.
“As we enter the 12th consecutive year of combat, we reflect deeply on the 298 names (of Soldiers) from the 10th Mountain Division who have been killed in action since 9/11 and are (represented) on the plaques behind me,” he added. “There have been over 100,000 Soldiers from this division – wearing our patch – who have fought in either (Operation Enduring Freedom) in Afghan-istan or (Operation Iraqi Freedom) in Iraq.”
Veterans Day is a time to reflect and remember that politicians, reporters, preachers and people on TV don’t grant Americans the freedom of speech, press and the right to vote, Milley explained.
“It’s that one percent … of America who decides to put on the uniform … that we honor this weekend,” he said.
“This uniform that I wear has changed many times in the last 237 years of our Army,” Milley continued. “What has not changed is the determination and the courage of the men and women who are willing to serve our country in times of danger.”
Retired Col. Mike Plummer, president of the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division and a Vietnam veteran, was one of the guest speakers during the event. Plummer was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1960 and served in several positions with the 10th Mountain Division (LI), to include 2nd Brigade commander and division chief of staff.
Plummer thanked the past and present service members who attended the ceremony.
“One of the fundamental truths about democracy is that freedom isn’t free,” he said. “Today, the 10th Mountain Division continues to demonstrate that freedom still isn’t free.”
Soldiers and Families of the 10th Mountain Division know the costs of war, Plummer explained.
“Veterans know the full cost … of the visible and invisible costs of war,” he said. “The freedom that we enjoy today was paid for by the blood and sacrifice of our veterans. … The American Soldier knows how much more precious freedom is than his or her life.
“Until the day a bugle plays taps for me, I will do all I can to honor their sacrifice and memory. When the time comes, hopefully I’ll be judged worthy to be invited to sit with my brothers around a Soldiers’ campfire in the sky,” Plummer added.
Bill Morrison, Northern New York 10th Mountain Division Association chapter president and a World War II veteran, also served as guest speaker. Morrison, one of the original 10th Mountain Division Soldiers, trained at what was then known as Camp Hale in Colorado.
“When the guys of my generation were younger, Nov. 11 had a different name and a different purpose. Armistice Day was a special day commemorating the day in 1918 when the first World War – ‘the war to end all wars’ – officially came to a merciful end,” he said. “It had been a war of trench fighting, barbed wire, tanks and fighter planes, poisoned gas (and) disease.”
Morrison said his father and uncle fought for the British during WWI and rarely spoke of the battles.
“The losses were horrendous; possibly as many as 500,000 soldiers died in a single battle,” he explained.
“For some years after 1918, Armistice Day was observed with the hope and conviction – because this war was so terrible – (that) future wars should never be fought,” Morrison continued. “Gradually, as veterans aged and memories grew much dimmer, Armistice Day ceremonies and its vision and promise slowly disappeared from the fabric of American life.”
It wasn’t until 1954 that Veterans Day became the official day to honor veterans of all wars.
“Remember our fallen comrades, whether near or far, in local cemeteries or military ones in distant lands,” Morrison said. “For us in WWII, the journey takes us back to Italy where we served. We revisit unnamed places where comrades fell and the beautiful military cemetery south of Florence where our friends remain, several hundred lying in the soil of their adopted land.
“Today, as we come together to observe Veterans Day, we pay tribute and honor to all our veterans past and present, to the Families and all those who support them, and to the men and women who proudly continue to serve their duty and the debt we owe,” he added.
After the official remarks, seven Soldiers fired three rifle volleys. A bugler from the 10th Mountain Division band performed taps, and “Amazing Grace” was performed on the bagpipes.