As the Memorial Day parade in Rhinebeck approached Rhinebeck Cemetery, the American Legion Color Guard climbed a small hill overlooking Mill Road and saluted all service men and women who passed by, including firefighters and other emergency personnel.
The Rhinebeck Cub and Boy Scouts returned the honor with a unanimous salute to the elder servicemen watching them march by.
Even with the beautiful weather, the mood was respectful and rather serious as the crowd of about 100 people drew near the cemetery. Pastor Luis Perez of Rhinebeck Reformed Church opened the graveside ceremony with an invocation. “The freedom that we have to gather on this sacred space has been mediated to us from above and through the agency of brave and loving and loyal fallen heroes,” he told the assembled crowd. “We take time to remember…so that we have cause to move forward with hope.”
The salute to the flag was led by 1st Vice Commander Ray Joyce of American Legion Post #429. Then the legion’s Chaplain Pete Sipperley read the list of 40 veterans from the “general Rhinebeck area” who had passed away since last Memorial Day. He concluded with a prayer and the American Legion Band played a medley.
John Wirth, a member of Post #429, then introduced the guest speaker, his son, Lieutenant Colonel Craig Wirth of the United States Marine Corps. Wirth asked the crowd to consider why they observe Memorial Day each year. “We must tell and retell this story not for our own need but so that our children and our children’s children will never forget the price of freedom, will never take lightly that which has been earned for them, and will know the character of Americans who take up arms to defend our nation and have given the last full measure of commitment,” he said.
Wirth highlighted the heroism and sacrifice of four American soldiers, one each from the Revolutionary War, World War II, the most recent war in Iraq, and the current war in Afghanistan. He described the heroic actions that in each soldier’s case led to success on the battlefield but culminated in their death. “We can never forget the sacrifice given for our freedom, but more importantly we must…live our lives in a manner that does not make their sacrifice in vain,” he concluded.
Accompanied by a bagpiper, representatives of several American Legion and community groups laid wreaths to commemorate the fallen. Then Village of Rhinebeck Mayor Jim Reardon read the names of Rhinebeck residents who lost their lives during wartime, starting with the Revolutionary War and continuing to the present.
The American Legion firing squad gave a salute to the honored dead, followed by the Rhinebeck High School Band playing taps as members of Post #429 raised the flag at the flagpole onsite. The American Legion Band played the National Anthem and America the Beautiful.
American Legion Post #429 Commander Wayne Gay closed the ceremony by inviting Robert Curthoys, a member of Post #429 for 60 years, to receive an “Outstanding Contributor” citation.
The ceremony closed with a benediction from Pastor Luis Perez. “Let us think on the sacrifices of those who laid down their lives to show us the ultimate embodiment of love,” he exhorted the crowd, reminding them to use Wirth’s inspiring message “as a catalyst to strengthen the fabric of our living and working communities.”