John Osterhout, chairman of the Sons of the American Legion in Elsmere (above, right) enjoys a few laughs with Al Hofaker (above, left), a veteran of World War II, during an appreciation dinner at Blanchard Post on Saturday, Nov. 3. Michael Hallisey / Spotlight News
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ALBANY — This Sunday, Nov. 11 commemorates the efforts of our country’s military veterans. It holds a special distinction in global history as the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
It’s an anniversary easily remembered despite the years that have passed. On the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month, the warring nations of the Allied and Central powers agreed to a truce. While a formal peace agreement would follow a year later in France at Versailles, this is the date people of the world remember as the moment when weapons were finally laid to rest in an ill-begotten war defined by absolute alliances and, ultimately, over 17 million dead.
Historians tie the war’s start to the 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. A volley for Serbian freedom turned into a flashpoint that ignited several global alliances to proceed into action. At the war’s end, more than four years later, contemporaries scarred by visions of its horrific toll would declare it as the “War to End All Wars.”
Please Remember Me
Veterans Day is the start of a busy season for military veterans, their families and volunteers marked by parades, dinners, ceremonies and charity endeavors. It lends credence to the saying, “An old soldier never dies;” he or she is always answering the call for service.
Gene Loparco of Colonie served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He’s a military legacy, which started with his grandfather’s service in World War I, and continued through his father’s service in the Navy during World War II.
In recent years, Loparco has been a part of Please Remember Me. The project aims to fly 153 American flags along Route 9 in Latham and Loudonville from May to August. On Veterans Day, those same flags are carried down Washington Avenue during Albany’s annual parade. Each year, he reaches out to find volunteers.
“What a feeling to see and photograph this site,” said Loparco. “You will have a tear of pride.”
Toys for Tots
The U.S. Marine Corps is known for their toughness, a reputation earned in battle against Germany in World War I.
But since 1947, the Marines have been akin to another serviceman who wears red — Santa Claus. The first drive collected over 5,000 toys for underprivileged children. Now, the strategically-placed drop boxes are ubiquitous fixtures to every holiday season. According to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, the program has collected and distributed over 512 million toys. But, this year, the Marines lost a valuable ally with the closure of Toys R Us.
William Keyes, Marine Corps League commandant, said many of the donations they receive are ideal for young children. However, the defunct toy store chain was always vital for supplying toys for teens.
He said, “Also, Toys R Us on the local level, gave us thousands of dollars, plus providing us with toys at their cost. We lost all of that, and that’s a big hit to us, locally.”
Keyes said this year’s Toys for Tots effort will include a plea to the local community to help close the gap lost to the closed toy chain. Interested volunteers can contact Joe Pollicino by phone at 518-257-9879, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Veterans Day is a time when society as a whole should take time to reflect upon the people who have served in the armed forces,” said Keyes, from inside the banquet hall at the Nathanial A. Blanchard American Legion Post 1040 in Elsmere. Each year, the Sons of the American Legion has a Veterans’ Day dinner to give thanks to local veterans on the preceding Saturday; this year’s was on Nov. 3. “To give thanks to those people who have put their lives on the line. Whether there was a conflict or not, they still put their lives on the line.”
John Osterhout, chairman of the Sons of the American Legion, has taken the lead in organizing the annual dinner for the past several years. It’s a responsibility he carries with enormous pride and passion.
“You’re serving the men you should be serving,” said Osterhout. “I get emotional when I think of it. Because the people who come here fought for our freedom.”
As a Son of the American Legion, Osterhout is not a military veteran. He is a descendant of one who did serve during times specified by the American Legion. As he walks the floor among veterans and family, he knows everyone by name, shaking hands and trading laughs among them all. No rank is pulled among anyone on this day.
For Albany resident Walter Ragotzkie, it’s his second time at the dinner. Ragotzkie was one of thousands who enlisted into the military at the age of 17, and with his mother’s approval. He joined the rest of his high school classmates who did the same in 1945. By his side was his “lady friend,” Rose, who he knew from kindergarten. Her deceased husband, also a World War II veteran, was present as Japan signed its unconditional surrender aboard the USS Missouri.
“I think it’s great they have so many people here to celebrate Veterans Day.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.