We see and hear everyday about supporting those who serve in the military. It’s the one cause that unites both Democrats and Republicans. Throughout our history, this country has been defined by wars and the blood shed by soldiers performing their duty, so we could have the freedoms we take for granted every day.
Not every member of the service made the ultimate sacrifice, but their sacrifices were still important. The “Walls of Honor,” located at Eisenhower Park, just outside the Band Shell, is a series of tributes and monuments dedicated to those brave men and women.
For a $100 donation, the name of any service member (from any conflict) will be added to stainless-steel panels mounted on granite monuments. With names of soldiers as far back as the War of 1812, these monuments recognize members of our military (living or dead) who served this nation through its darkest moments or protected it in times of peace.
This year’s “unveiling” ceremony on June 23 drew well over 2,000 people celebrating the achievements of our veterans, adding more than 300 names to the monuments, now honoring over 10,000 service members. Although most public ceremonies are usually filled with politicians getting a photo opportunity, this was different. There were no politics on display this afternoon, only a sense of pride while being surrounded by true Patriots.
With a crowd full of veterans wearing uniforms or other identifying garments, you got a real feeling of what this was all about. It was the veterans that took the spotlight, delivering heartfelt speeches and giving the crowd a sense of the real sacrifices they chose to make. But if you ask them, there’s not a hero among them.
Somehow, standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and “Star Spangled Banner,” took on a different significance. It wasn’t just a run through, so we can get to the next stage of the ceremony or start the ball game. It felt different and meant something to everyone there. I’ve recited that pledge and stood for the anthem thousands of times in my life, but not like this, and not amongst veterans struggling to escape wheelchairs while leaning on friends and family to participate with honor.
Veterans from all conflicts share that common sacrifice and to hear them talk about it, there was a common theme. Their concern is that future generations will not remember.
Nick Graziano, a Vietnam War veteran and Chairman of the Nassau County Veterans Memorial Fund, which is responsible for the monuments, spoke passionately about ensuring that educators do a better job of making sure students understand what happened during these conflicts. “Educators are not telling the real stories of war,” he said, adding, “Remind them how we saved the world, not once, but twice.”
He also implored veterans to talk to their children about their service and sacrifice. “Make sure you tell your children about what this means,” he said, “Remember, reflection and pay tribute to those we lost and those who served.”
“I was killed in Vietnam,” Graziano said, “But I just didn’t die yet. Some came home with ticking time bombs in their bodies, some came home under a flag and other never came home.” He also reminded us what General George Patton said of soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice. “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
Angel Ciotta, a 92-year-old veteran and survivor of Iwo Jima, was honored for his contributions to all the memorials at Eisenhower. He was barely 18 when he landed on the beach at Iwo Jima. “Whatever you are enjoying today did not come free” he said, “It was paid for in blood, sweat and death. We left white crosses all over the world.”
As the ceremonies wound down, it was almost time for everyone to turn their attention to the monuments and locate their loved one’s name. To honor those that were lost, there was a jolting 21-gun salute, followed by the haunting playing of “Taps,” while the crowd bowed their heads and many wept silently.
Paul DiSclafani has been a contributing columnist to Anton Media Group since 2016. He has called Massapequa home for 50 years.