By Cady Kuzmich
Halfmoon — Close to 400 people, from teetering toddlers to men who saw battle in the second World War, gathered at the American Legion Post on Grooms Road in Halfmoon Monday morning at 11 a.m. to recognize the service and sacrifice of our nation’s troops.
According to the event’s coordinator and the Master of Ceremonies, John “Lippy” Lepine, “our ceremony is usually attended by 200 to 250 people.” Lepine, retired from the Navy, has been a member of the Halfmoon American Legion Post for about 15 years.
The pavilion can hold up to 400 people according to Bob Dyer who once served as the Post’s commander in the eighties. The pavilion was nearly full Monday morning. “The crowd keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Dyer’s wife, Pat, who served as the Auxiliary’s state President in 2004 to 2005.
Lepine noted that while the ceremony may be brief, just 40 minutes, it’s always moving.
Halfmoon Town Supervisor Kevin Tollisen and Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett attended the Memorial Day Ceremony. “Many don’t recognize the sacrifice” made by those who serve, said Tollisen. Tollisen said that since he hasn’t served in the military, he really “can’t comprehend that sacrifice.”
“It’s one thing to say ‘thank you’ but there are many ways to make a difference in veterans’ lives right here in Saratoga County,” said Barrett, citing peer to peer mentoring programs for veterans and the veteran’s trust fund. “As Americans we’re asked to apologize for things past and present. Well, my message to the veterans is this: Please don’t ever apologize for doing your job. Please don’t apologize for answering your nation’s call. For heaven’s sake, please don’t ever apologize for victory,” Barrett added.
The service featured the presentation of Colors by the legion’s color guard, a brief speech by Vietnam Veteran and Post 1450 member Jim Keith , a POW-MIA Ceremony, a Service to the Fallen, laying of wreaths, a rifle salute and finally taps played by Bugler, Steve Desadore. The post’s auxiliary president, Sandy Brown, led the pledge of allegiance.
Lepine introduced Keith calling him a “permanent resident of the fourth stool” in the post, “fresh off a golf course near you.” Keith began his speech by invoking the words of Tom Brokaw who wrote about The Greatest Generation. “My father was a member of the Greatest Generation. I like to think we weren’t too shabby, either.” Keith spoke of what it was like to serve in an unpopular war. “War is nothing like you see in the movies,” he said. He expressed his gratitude for the way civilian perception and appreciation of soldiers has changed since he returned from Vietnam. “ America has come full circle,” he said.
When asked what he would say to the younger generation of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, people who may feel reluctant to join the legion, Lepine said, “As for the younger veterans, they’ll come around in time.”
He continued, “Right now, just as we were, they’re pretty busy with career and family. Soon, as many of us have, they will miss and seek-out that sense of belonging and camaraderie that they once experienced in the military.”
Lepine hopes people will realize the legion is more than “just another local bar.” As a veterans organization, what we have and what we do can’t be found outside of military service,” he said.