Ninety-six names were read aloud at a somber and reverential Memorial Day ceremony in Valley Stream on Monday: the service members from the village who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
They were the names of the heroes who didn’t make it back home to their loved ones — the soldiers, sailors and airmen who gave the last measure of devotion to preserve Americans’ freedom. Members of the community placed carnations on the Veterans Memorial in their memory.
“Your presence here, and that of the people gathering all across America, is a tribute to our lost troops and to their families,” this year’s grand marshal, Chief Naval Aircrewman William G. Hartig, said. “It is a way to say we remember. For those who gave their lives — the soldiers who shivered and starved through the winter at Valley Forge, the doughboys crouched in the muddy trenches of France, our boys at Kasserine Pass, the platoon who patrolled the hazy jungles of Vietnam and the young men and women patrolling the mountains of Afghanistan. We remember and honor them all.”
Hartig, a lifelong Valley Stream resident, joined the Navy as a reservist in 1991 and has been mobilized eight times since September 2001. He served in Southwest Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Bahrain. As a civilian, he is the village parks supervisor and a volunteer EMT for the Fire Department.
Although the annual Memorial Day parade was once again called off this year due to Covid-19 concerns, American Legion Post 854 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1790 led a small procession from the library to the Village Green, accompanied by music provided by the New York Naval Cadets. About 300 residents, and veterans from every branch of the U.S. military, turned out for the ceremony, as did members of Valley Stream’s Veterans Committee, the Fire Department and the Boy Scouts.
“Covid has temporarily changed the way we do things, and it has taken so much from us,” Mayor Ed Fare said as he welcomed the community to the ceremony. “But it cannot take away our respect for those who have given their lives for this great country. In Valley Stream, I can assure you that we are proud of all our servicemen and women. … And we are particularly proud of all the people remembered here today who have made the supreme sacrifice so that we can live in freedom.”
“We had a great program put together on a short notice due to Covid,” Village Clerk James Hunter said. “… It shows Valley Stream’s pride and their love for their veterans.” Hunter, a member of the Sons of the American Legion, said his father had served in Vietnam.
At the end of the ceremony, rifle squads from the American Legion and the VFW fired in salute. As the noise echoed, a mournful bugle played taps. The service concluded with the raising of the American flag from staff to full staff. This protocol, Hartig explained, is unique to Memorial Day. “It honors the war dead in the morning,” he said, “but then the flag is raised to full staff at noon by the living who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, to rise up in their stead and to continue their fight for liberty and justice for all.”