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Archive for the ‘veterans’ Category

MEMORIAL DAY 2015
May 25, 2015

Hello all and thank you for being here on a day that is not only a holiday but a holy day to those of us that are touched by the deep, searing meaning of this ceremony.

There are few occasions that I feel more honored to speak about as Mayor. I am called upon once a year to voice the anguish and gratitude our city feels, for so many of our families have experienced loss that is inexplicably sad.

Walls of granite across the land are etched with the names of young men and women that have given their lives – their promise and their futures – to our community and nation. The inscriptions are distantly cold, and can never speak to the marvelous lives that once coursed with flushed faces, laughter and intention.

The thought of this enormous loss is so daunting.

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The concrete finality of such loss breaks my heart and silences my muse. Waves of conflicts have washed over our nation, each surge pulling away those we love like glittering specks of sand tossed into the mirth of motion and then gone to a vast emptiness.

This reality overwhelms me every year. I think of mothers and fathers fearfully sending these children off to the military with pride and a sense of powerlessness that must be so difficult, but is nothing compared to the few that receive a knock on the door revealing a crisp, uniformed officer delivering news that ends all hope.

I die a little bit knowing each name on a memorial comes with a similar pronouncement and aftermath.

So, every year, I struggle for words. I stew for days with thoughts of patriotism, service, community and the terror that is bound up in the essence of this day. I think of our blessed way of life in the United States of America – of our abundance, joy and freedom and feel quite lost. I worry that I cannot adequately express our communal feelings…
So, I will start with our proud soldiers. It is because of our military that we are afforded peace. We are afforded personal freedoms and ease that allows us to actually ignore the privileges that others are fighting and dying for around the globe. We have access to food, healthcare and education. We can vote, or not. We can eat well, or not. We can thrive, or not. We can worship God or the devil or a light bulb, or not. We can even work or not, though I truly believe most people would prefer to earn a living than accept a handout. Americans are inherently noble people.

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I mulled this all over while at a bonfire the night before last. My friends and family gathered in a circle as warm as the pyre that drew us to its heat. A cooler of cold beer opened and closed while young children ran outside the ring of chairs. Young adults, so recently boys and girls, laughed lightly and courted in the flickering shadows of the periphery. We seated parents looked on with amusement and nostalgia, and then would gaze into the mysterious living thing that fire is.

We watched as logs were tossed into the coals and a burst of embers would explode into the night to drift upward and disappear into the black. Our heads tilted back on our chairs as we fixed our eyes on the speckled canopy of darkness.

I thought each hot, orange ember must certainly take its place amongst its far sisters, the stars, transported from this temporal reality to the sparkling realm of timeless light. I like to think that these tiny fragments that grace the sky are the ever-present evidence of the beauty of souls that are lost to us. Souls dance their way to the stars like embers and in the 300 years that we have been a sovereign nation, 1.1 million soldiers have filled the night sky.

For me, a woman of a certain age and temperament that does NOT believe in the devil or the omnipotent power of a light bulb, God has given us these stars as a sign that there is order, permanence and meaning in our lives that surpasses the inexplicable tragedies of this existence.

And I think it must be this faith that sustains us through violence, poverty and war. It must be this faith that gives young men courage to break away from the comforts of home. It must be faith that allows a mother a final kiss before deployment and it MUST be faith that gives a husband, wife or child the strength to bear a triangular flag beside a casket, the white stars on a field of blue held as closely as breath and tears.

These were my fireside thoughts the other night. I expressed them tearfully to my friend, John. We both stared in silence at the flames and then he turned to me and said, “Ann, it’s all true. This is so horribly sad. But there is this too: each soldier had given meaning to his or her life. They have served our country with dignity. They tried to carry democracy to a world that thirsts for our way of life. They went with selfless obedience to keep our county safe and free. The meaning of their lives is as vast and great as the sky above us.”

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We both went silent again. I think we both were crying. John is so right.

Please remember the gift of each one of those stars when you pledge allegiance to our flag and when staring quietly up at a haunted, star-filled sky. That magnificent sky is filled with love.

Thank you to the fine veterans that have served and to those that are still active today.

Thank you again to the Veteran’s Commission for organizing this event again, as you do every year. Amsterdam is grateful for your continuous advocacy on behalf of those that have served our country so well. And lastly, thank you to God, for planting us all in the soil of this great nation where such freedom and sacrifice may be reverently celebrated.

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Good afternoon and welcome to City Hall. It is my honor to offer an annual assessment of the progress this administration has made over time and to set some goals for the coming year.

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The word “Renaissance” has been bandied about a bit lately, which is not a word I regularly cite in regard to our city. It is a word that suggests extravagance and romance. One imagines colorful medieval robes, mortared courtyards, writhing statuary, and spiraling baroque architecture all set in the rolling hills of Tuscany.

Not quite the picture of Amsterdam, NY in 2015.

Ours is a typical, twenty-first century, post-industrial American city that has experienced difficulty and true struggle over the decades. The beating heart of our downtown was ripped out, businesses and jobs fled the state, traffic patterns were hopelessly scrambled, and government’s frequent response had been to cut away funding for critical infrastructure, equipment and workforce. Amsterdam was vigorously torn apart in a physical way and the soul of this community tore in ways that have been ceaselessly painful and difficult to mend.

It’s easy to point out the trouble of past years, especially foibles of the last year. I will take a different tact. I see no good in giving ill will and dysfunction entry into a new year that may be recast into a time of faithful service, cooperation and most certainly progress.

With that, I will briefly highlight the successes 2014 brought us and plans for the coming year.

Fiscal Responsibility

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We continue to heal years of chaos in our Department of Finance thanks in great part to the diligent work of our new Controller Matthew Agresta. I cannot say enough about the tremendous job Matt is doing. He is skillfully progressing the many tasks identified in our Corrective Action Plan that the prior council, city attorney, Matt and I scripted in response to an audit done by the Office of the State Comptroller. He’s readily taken command of staff, process and remedy. He’s successfully shifted his department from antiquated accounting software to the state-of-the-art municipal system that will allow for prompt reporting and analysis. He’s recommended an upgrade of the city’s computer and telecommunication systems, and will see to it that the technological needs of city government are met. He’s overseen the dissolution of the insurance trust and is finally progressing the foreclosure that had languished in the hands of his two predecessors. He has been directing reconciliations of internal records, bank statements, and the general ledger necessary to complete our reports to the State.

Thankfully, it looks like we will be in good stead at the end of this process, with a fund balance that is trending in a positive direction. This trend indicates that this administration has confidently led us through the global recession at a time when State government has limited our revenues and expenses have escalated at alarming rates. These crushing realities have devastated other communities economically.

The most important quality that our young Controller presents is that he is a consummate team player and puts partisan politics aside for the betterment of this community. It has been a pleasure to have a partner that willingly takes up the mantle of his office and works peacefully toward the goal of making Amsterdam thrive. Thank you, Matt.

And thrive we will, thanks to the many hands that make light work of our tasks. We have a tremendously skilled workforce and wonderful volunteers that hold the vision of a restored Amsterdam in their hearts and put their backbone toward my next topic:

Revitalization

Not to be confused with a fully realized renaissance, revitalization is an incremental process that takes time, patience and extreme effort. This past year saw numerous projects implemented and completed that improve the physical fabric of our surroundings.

This is a list of some of our many accomplishments.

• The Reid Hill neighborhood received two $400K Community Development Block Grants over two consecutive years that allowed for interior and exterior property improvements of over 50 structures. We coupled that with several demolitions and road improvements on Bell Hill that included curbing and sidewalks to an active pedestrian area. This year, we will apply for funding for these activities in the Grand Street area.

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• Colonial Gardens and the Roosevelt Garden apartment complexes saw the complete rehabilitation of all 269 units, and 100 Woodrow Wilson apartments are under way. This reconstruction entailed complete renovation of all windows, siding, insulation, roofs, kitchens, bathrooms, carpeting, living space and common areas, ensuring attractive, safe and affordable housing to low-income families.

• The downtown traffic pattern rerouting has been completed without the “carmagedon” that had been anticipated by feverish naysayers.

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• Footings to the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook are in place. We will see this structure rapidly develop over the coming construction season into the beautiful, treed, pedestrian bridge envisioned in our Comprehensive Plan.

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• Shuttleworth Park saw the laying of the controversial new artificial turf and drainage. Thank you to Gabriel Paving and Contracting and the Amsterdam Mohawks for their extraordinary generosity in seeing that this job was installed by baseball season. We’ve also built a new deck, put new stadium seating in place and have constructed a warming hut by the creek for ice skaters, winter joggers and snow shoeing enthusiasts.

• Phase IV of our storm sewer infrastructure project was completed and we’ve just received $600K funding for Phase V. Over the past five years, the city has received $3 million dollars in grants to eliminate cross connections between the storm water and sewer systems, saving the city from costly fines while protecting our residents and natural environment.

• We’ve steadily progressed repairs to our water distribution system and now can report that out of over 1,000 hydrants, only six are out of service.

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• Citywide volunteer clean-ups in the Spring and Fall have cleared out a six year total of 24 TONS of litter from our streets, water ways and public spaces. BRAVO to every man, woman and child that helped in this effort!

Collaboration

Our partnerships with surrounding municipalities continue to develop. Several notable projects will impact our budget and neighborhoods.

For several decades, our community has looked longingly toward the Capital District for inclusion. I am proud of our growing relationship with Schenectady. This is exceedingly important. We have not seen such opportunity for shared growth or collaboration since GE had its heyday.

I’d like to thank Mayor Gary McCarthy specifically for including Amsterdam in a vision for prosperity along the Mohawk that is natural and familiar.

• Our partnership brought a successful launching of the Capital District Land Reutilization Corporation (the “Landbank”), which is off to a great start. Through this channel, Amsterdam has received $562,000 in funding for over a dozen rehabilitation projects and demolitions. Work on the first rehab in Amsterdam, the Julia Street property, will be completed before the flowers blossom.

• Amsterdam threw its support heavily to Schenectady in support of its Casino application once it was clear Montgomery County was out of the fight. Their award will mean jobs for our residents and hopefully interest from developers along the river that see opportunities just upstream on our shores.

• Amsterdam and Schenectady have been working with the Center for Technology and Growth and are proud to announce a $550K grant with Gloversville and Troy to design a shared code enforcement module. This prototype will track blight, out of town landlords, and help us to better address deterioration of properties. It may one day be used across the state or better yet, the nation.

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• Five capital district mayors have bonded together to take up the President’s National Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran’s Homelessness in the Capital District. Amsterdam, Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga and Troy are committed to fulfilling this mission by 2016.

• We’ve been exploring shared service opportunities with Montgomery County. We will start by tracking actions we already collaborate on and a full inventory of public works equipment and laborers. Some additional initiatives I have been proposing since 2009 include shared records management, energy procurement and efficiencies, labor negotiations, and GIS mapping of critical infrastructure.

• We’ve negotiated a sludge disposal agreement with Madison County to take the particulate from our wastewater treatment plant. This deal will save our taxpayers $125,000 in our annual budget.

• We’ve opened up discussions with Fulton County to determine if selling water to their communities is feasible. We know our water will enable economic growth further north and south as it has on RT30 in the Towns of Amsterdam and Florida.

• We just signed a solar energy contract that will save the city $264,000 a year, resulting in $12M over the lifetime of the agreement.

• FMCC, Montgomery and Fulton Counties and CDTA have been meeting with us to possibly establish a regional transportation strategy that services our communities in a cost-efficient, effective manner.

• Of course, we are proud of the success we’ve had in bringing grant money to our city. This year’s regional economic development council awards target City Hall reparations at $225K, the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook $325K, and the aforementioned city infrastructure repairs of $600K.

Quality of Life

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Across this nation, it is recognized that revitalization is spurred by amenities and attractions that enrich our quality of life. To that end, many, many hands are sharing in the responsibility for shoring up this city, and perhaps none so vigorously as those working to provide cultural and recreational opportunities for youth and families. W1shfu1:Th1nk1ng (especially TJ Czeski, Jon Sumpter, Casey Martin, Calvin Martin and Matt Moller) has played an integral part in outreach and mentoring to an at-risk community that has long been neglected. The women of the Creative Connections Arts Center (Barbara Neznek, Tammy Merendo, and Suzannah Hunter) offer instruction as well as loving, familial relationships to some children that have never experienced such caring. Danielle’s House provides welcome to the homeless and the school district has received funding that will allow us to address the nutritional and physical health of families that we had intended in last year’s “Reinvent Yourself Amsterdam” program.

Our recreation department has been at the center of much of this activity, coordinating events, spaces, and interested parties. Bacon Recreation Center and the Arts Center continue to be hubs of activity for fun and learning. We host basketball workshops and tournaments, Saturday morning play dates for toddlers, and Summer Camp to hundreds of children. We have an award winning 4H Club, community garden and after-school tutoring for any child that wants help. We offer free-swimming classes to kids at the city pool and free buses that get them there from our poorer neighborhoods.

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Our annual events are growing in participants and impact. Spring Fling attracts thousands of visitors to our Main Street and our Farmers Market makes locally produced vegetables and products available to a community that is hungry for this opportunity (thank you to Sherri Crouse for being a primary organizer of both efforts!) W1shfu1:Th1nk1ng’s Annual 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament at Vets Field commemorates a moment of extreme pain in our community, marking the tragic murder of two young boys, as well as the willingness of this community to resiliently push back with love. The same rings true for National Night Out, populated by our Neighborhood Watch Association members, families and many organizations that are committed to fostering a safe and healthy environment for our residents.

It’s important to stop here and point out how safe we are in relative terms. In fact, our statistics show that the City of Amsterdam’s crime rate is trending downward over the past three years and compared to surrounding municipalities, we are very safe. This does not mean we must pull back from efforts to manage wrongdoing. It means we are going in the right direction. To this end we have expanded APD’s outreach to the public via electronic media and instituted “Tell us Tuesday” regarding wanted subjects. Tips from this avenue have led to successful arrests. We’ve developed the animal control site, “Furry Friends Friday” which will assist adoption of local rescued animals. We’ve expanded surveillance cameras in the Five Corners area, reinstituted walking beats in problem areas of the City, received a $100,000 Homeland Security Tactical Team Grant, and are partnering in a newly developing “Crime Stoppers” program. We will fill vacancies at the police department and come up with more programs that bring neighbors together and encourage youth.

Other areas where we’ve triumphed are as follows:
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Sassafras Playground received a much-needed facelift from a group of dedicated volunteers and city staff. Rusty nails, splintered wood and vandalized areas were remedied and a fresh coat of paint brought the aged structure back to life for young families.

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• The GAR Park and monument dedicated to Civil War Veterans below City Hall was reestablished. The lawn now hosts an expansive flower garden and labyrinth that attracts visitors from around the world. The cost has been negligible to taxpayers.

Action

There are several projects we will aggressively pursue this year. They include:
IMG_8804Master Planning. Over the past few years we have compiled studies, reports, assessments and plans from various sources. We’ve generated the Waterfront Heritage BOA and Northeast BOA forums, train station relocation and waterfront walkway feasibility studies, the NY Rising strategic plan, a state-mandated Hazard Mitigation plan, the Fulton/Montgomery and Regional Economic Development Plans, the Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor Plan, our Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and a couple of Municipal Golf Course strategic plans. This Spring, HUD will begin a citywide assessment of housing and community issues. All of these documents must be condensed into one cohesive executive summary. To that end, we will convene a Master Planning Committee to come up with a new guiding document that augments our older Comprehensive Plan. Some of the goals and strategies in the original document still hold for today’s world; others must be updated to address the evolving needs of our city in the 21st century. We should take this opportunity to think about where we want to be in ten years and what we may do purposely to achieve our desires. This will be an exciting and thought provoking process.

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• As the cold season wanes and work again starts up on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, we will press hard to market the Chalmers and downtown properties on Main and Bridge Streets. We are planning a late-winter event that will feature hidden commercial and residential spaces that can be the envy of the Mohawk Valley.

• The Concordia assisted living facility will be built adjacent to the River Ridge Living Center, providing over 100 good paying jobs and much-needed access to this type of care in our City. The hotel downtown will be revamped and a new business will launch at the FGI building on Edson Street. The collapsing wall along Dove Creek will be repaired and RT5 will be reconstructed to alleviate annual flooding in that area along the river.

• We are well into the conceptual process necessary to build a new Recreation Center. Renderings, cost estimates and an initial operational budget have been conceived. We are studying several possible locations and have spoken to a few well-known developers about the project. We’ve also begun the arduous task of raising money with our not-for-profit partners to make this a reality. We are certain that this project will be successful on several levels, not the least being the wellbeing of our youth and families.

• We are also looking to convert Isabel’s Field to a ball park and playground facility that will support individuals with special requirements, i.e., those with mobility challenges needing wheelchair access, grab bars, etc. We know that this type of offering would attract individuals and teams from across the region and would be a proud addition to our recreational provisions.

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• Just as every resident is responsible to keep up with the maintenance of their home, City Hall will see necessary reconstruction of several critically compromised areas of the building, including the back patio and portico off of the southeast wing. This is the primary seat of city government and protecting this asset directly signifies the pride we have for our heritage.

• For those of you that are aficionados of modern technologies, we will implement a mobile application available to smart phones and computers that makes it easier for residents to report concerns such as graffiti, potholes or suspicious activities in their neighborhoods. The application, used by many cities and towns across the country, allows administration to more effectively track work orders, set goals, and gather macro-data to support budgetary requests.

• There are many smaller actions that we will take to address our common concerns. We will be proposing new legislation targeting enhanced code enforcement efforts pertaining to vacant properties and restoration incentives. We will begin a scheduled program off employee training to keep our staff safe and secure. We will open up ways to generate additional revenues and cooperate with our partners. I hope that, in this Chamber, we will commit to respectful and considerate behavior.

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It is the duty of this government to reconstruct the tattered quilt of this community into a colorful, well-constructed patchwork of hope. We must take the torn pieces of our physical reality and repurpose them into an environment that is vibrant and growing. This takes sincere good will, ingenuity and willing compromise. I humbly ask my fellow members of the Council to work WITH me and do all in their power to see that we succeed.

Thankfully, we may depend on the indelible strength and charity of the people of Amsterdam to assist us in this goal. Together, we will must keep to our dreams for this city and provide the foundation for a proud, kind and prosperous future.

As Lady Bird Johnson so aptly put it, “While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many.”

May we all depend upon each other in these times of change. Thank you.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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Good Morning. I’d like to thank the Veteran’s Commission for once again allowing me the honor to speak on behalf of our city; to once again acknowledge how much we appreciate the men and women that have freely offered to serve this country we all love.
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Another year has come and gone since we last gathered on a crisp morning by our beautiful monument. The hours, days, weeks and months have been spent according to the demands of our daily lives – at work or at the doctor’s office, at a school function or social event, behind the wheel of our car or at the kitchen stove. Every day, we wake, dress, eat and blessedly sleep at day’s end. The seasons fall away from us like the leaves from these trees. We strive for financial stability, independence, and accomplishments both great and small. We engage with loved ones and peers in ways that are both mundane and incredibly poignant. We are afforded all of these instances of being because we live in a time of relative peace and some prosperity.

For the most part, we will finish this day fed and in our own bed, with a roof over our head and an opportunity to tackle tomorrow’s challenges as a new sun rises.

We are blessed.

This is the truth of our experience as civilians of a great and powerful nation – a country of promise – a country that has been heavily involved in wars and conflicts over its two hundred years of history. We have a way of living that is the pinnacle of comfort for others around the world.

Yes, we are blessed.

We are blessed because we have had the good fortune to have young men and women that have chosen to serve in the military, to defend our freedoms and provide us this unrivaled way of life that we have all benefited from.

Thank you, you men and women of the military, that have served us so well.

In thinking about this speech today, I was struck by the many reasons a young man or woman may choose this line of endeavor, to put aside the familiar and take up the mantle of a military uniform.

In times of peace, one can see the wonderful opportunities the military provides. They will leave high school and go off to boot camp, wet behind the ears, to find structure, purpose, schooling, travel, and a career. They will make friendships and associations that will survive a lifetime of what life will throw at them, and most of these bonds will outlast some jobs and marriages. It’s understandable why someone would choose this path.

It is so compelling that young people choose this endeavor in times of strife, yet again and again, the honorable call to action is bravely taken up. As long as men have gathered in villages to live communally, they have also stood together against oppression and fear. I am a child of the 60’s. I watched my grandparents and parents talk of the world wars, my father and uncle talk of the Korean War that left my uncle deaf in one ear and my father resolutely mute about his time of service, and saw kids from my neighborhood sent off to Vietnam.

I was too young then to understand the enormity of what they and the many families across this nation had experienced.

These young people, the kids we nursed, immunized, provided music lessons to and carted around to sporting events, left high school, still wet behind the ears, blew through boot camp and were deployed around the world to situations unlike any they had known before. After such a short time, our young recruits were charging the beach at Normandy, stumbling through cold, rough waters, an air assault and a barrage of bullets that would take 120,000 allied lives.
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Still green, they were deployed to the hot, humid and hostile jungles of Vietnam to walk waste deep in water, guns held over their heads, trying to avoid snakes, trip wires, gun fire and the relentless fear that has stayed with many for decades.

Still wet behind the ears, our boys and girls have been sent in heavy fatigues to the arid deserts of the middle east to track tyranny in the monotonous blowing sands and stinging heat that often soars well over 100 degrees, also fearing the anonymous attacks of guerilla warfare and land mines, only this time they face an enemy willing to strap a bomb to his or her chest and take out an entire section of city street.

With the advancements made in medical technologies, soldiers return with disabilities that they surely would not have survived in the past. Loss of limbs, head injuries and trauma are far too commonly born by our returning heroes. These young men and women have served us too well to be forgotten. We, the great nation that has been afforded so much in the way of serenity, have a responsibility to provide the ongoing support necessary to ensure that they may live lives that are full and fulfilled, as safe and stable and comfortable as any of us have come to expect. We must ensure that veterans are provided education and vocational opportunities, and jobs. We must ensure that no veteran goes homeless or without the medical provisions that will help them flourish once again.

To those of you that stand with us today as veterans, and those of you still in active service, I cannot understand the depth of your experience as soldiers but can, with great certainty, tell you that we people of this small community of Amsterdam are completely grateful for the gift of your time, talent, youth and commitment.

I’d like share the words of a mayor in another like community, Mayor Debbie Brinkman of Littleton, Colorado. We share her sentiment and gratitude:

“Since World War I, the United States of America’s Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard have fought in ten battles:
• World War II
• Korean War
• Vietnam War
• Bay of Pigs
• Grenada
• Invasion of Panama
• The Persian Gulf
• Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina
• Invasion of Afghanistan, and the
• Invasion of Iraq

We open our arms and our hearts and welcome them all home. They did not all come home alive, they did not all come home whole, many are not yet home, and we continue to send many back into harm’s way. The enormity of their sacrifice is beyond compare. So how do we dare to believe two words, eight letters is enough?

John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

So, it isn’t enough to say it – we need to be it. Grateful. Thankful. Appreciative. The greatest prayer you can say is “Thank You.” Two words. Eight letters. But weighted with love, gratitude, humility and understanding.”

So, to each veteran that stands here today, under this heavy sky and waving flag, our words are not enough.
Know, as only a soldier can know, that you have our deepest respect, gratitude and love.
God bless.

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MEMORIAL DAY 2014
May 26 • Veterans Field, Amsterdam, NY

Good morning all. I ask you to join me in a short exercise as we think about the meaning of Memorial Day.

Think of someone you’ve loved with all of your heart that has died. Choose one person that was your reason to live or your strongest support in this crazy, confusing life… that one someone that you still cannot live without that has died. They may be a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a child, or a close friend. Imagine as clearly as you can their smiling face.

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Think of all of the wonderful moments you shared… the laughter at the dining room table at Thanksgiving, the closeness you felt as children when you leapt together from rock to rock in a stream, the happiness you felt as you watched them stand in cap and gown for a graduation portrait, the gratitude you felt when they poured you a glass of milk because you were too small to manage, the understanding that passed between you as you accepted an engagement ring, the moments you spent together in silent reverie in a church pew, the harsh tears you shared when life was unbearable or angry…

Think about the last time you saw your loved one. That very last, irretrievable moment when you thought, “well, maybe this is it,” but deep in your heart, you couldn’t believe it. You gently held a bird-like hand at the bedside, you tousled someone’s already wild hair, you both stared off awkwardly into different directions, you noted how grown up he looked in that military uniform, you embraced her tightly in the hallway, you watched his headlights fade as he drove into the last bit of twilight before evening…

and then they were gone.

Think about how desperately you sought out the last remnants of their being… how you grabbed a shirt out of the laundry basket or a pillow off of the bed, and buried your face in it for a fleeting scent that would all too soon be forgotten… how you eyed the keys they left on the table or the sock by the bed as if they would insistently push back through the door to retrieve them… how you touched the hospital monitor to kick it back into rhythm… how you watched the clouds move across a sky suddenly imbued with a presence that was ripping your heart from its cage.

We all come to know mourning in ways that are small and terrible.

Think about how tenuous that memory of your loved one is… how everyday, color and realities sift from that image… how facial features and context breezily lift away in thin, transparent sheets… notice how blurred that face is in your memory and how difficult it becomes to hold on to the story of your time together because each day subtly subtracts remembrances without your knowing.

How at mercy we are to the evil thievery of time.

Days tick off of the calendar into weeks, then months, then years. We learn to live with muted recollection. We are stuck with photo albums that have frozen only fractions of a life that had been rich and tactile and deeply meaningful.

Now think of that loss in terms of the many, many souls we have lost to war. In fact, we have lost over 1.1 million in the three hundred years we have existed as a sovereign nation.

Think of that incredible loss to our hearts and to our country.

Our memories lift collectively from us like dandelion seeds on a light wind. They peel away until we stand before walls of lonely names without tether to the hearts that etched them there. The souls that wore these names and the uniforms of our country are gone forever, as are many of the loving people they belonged to.

It is the testament of each military monument, with names that have been scratched into stone that calls us all to the purpose of this day. They drive us as a community to never forget that each name held the magic of a life that we have lost forever. More importantly, each boy or girl that is memorialized on that monument took a selfless oath to serve our country.
This quote by Reverand Randolf Harrison McKim speaks to this selflessness and sacrifice perfectly: “Not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank, not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity, but in simple obedience to duty as they understood it, these men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all, and died.”

On this day, we must grieve for we have lost generations of loved ones.

But just as we must grieve, so too must we also celebrate the lives of those dear souls that have ensured our prosperity, commerce, comfort and freedom. They have given us a country that values equality, ingenuity, religious choice and free speech.

All too often, we walk or drive past these monuments without thought to the spectacular gift of our everyday lives, so it is fitting that we gather as one to give thanks for each and every brave individual, both living and dead, that have taken the oath to serve in our military.

Thank you, each of you here today that had passed through the rigors of boot camp, crisply saluted a superior officer, presented your weapon with precision, and marched as one body with your company. Thank you to those veterans that had served decades ago but still stand at attention when our national anthem is played. Thank you for tending to the graves of your fellows and never allowing us to forget our duty to those that have passed.

Thank you to the young men and women that still take up the oath and grace us with their protection at present. You continue a tradition that is proud and honorable.

Thank you so much to the Veteran’s Commission for organizing this event again, as you do every year. Amsterdam is grateful for your continuous advocacy on behalf of those that have served our country so well.

And lastly, thank you to God, for planting us all in the soil of this great nation where such freedom and sacrifice may be reverently celebrated.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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Hello all. Thank you for coming out on this chilly, gray morning. It’s not the most ideal weather for a gathering, so I especially appreciate your making the effort to come here today and pay tribute to our veterans. For my part of this ceremony, I’d like to tell you a story:

Once upon a time, I stood at the side of the road on Guy Park Avenue and watched the Amsterdam Veterans honor their comrades by walking a length of the city road to their WWI memorial. The day was brisk but beautiful. Clusters of my neighbors stood reverently, clasping their coats against a light wind with gloved hands, smiling and greeting folks they’d known their whole lives. Much like today, they were a mix of hats, scarves, and wool in the colors of autumn… gold, plumb, brown and rust… most were older folks and a few families brought together several generations of the same height, weight and hair pattern. They talked quietly with each other, noting the falling leaves, fleeting clouds, and onset of winter in the coming weeks.

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I held the hand of my little boy, Ian, who at the time had to have been about four or five years old. We were excited and happy to be at our first official parade in our partnership as mother and son. He was so young and perfect; a sprite with an immediate smile and mischievous glint in his eye. He could not imagine how deep my love for him was because, for a child, it is a given. He was born into the brilliant embers of my attention. He did not know of my long wait for him or my doubt that I’d ever be lucky enough to have a child. I gripped his mittened hand tightly as the procession started.

We watched as the veterans from wars long gone began to pass our station. A scattering of very elderly men that had survived the “War to End All Wars” and eight decades were driven in cars, still proudly wearing their dress caps, insignias, awards, badges and accoutrements. These men sat in stoic silence, weathered as the dried leaves, bearing witness to the time that had passed and memories that would soon be remembered only in books, instead of recounted person-to-person. They seemed to not notice the gathering around them. Their clouded eyes looked ahead in anticipation of their destination.

Men and a few women of WWII, who at the time were then in their late sixties and early seventies followed these vets. This was a larger group of soldiers than the first, still vital and dignified, survivors of a war of unthinkable brutality and loss. They wore, and still wear, their experiences with such pride. They had lived through a time of unsullied patriotism and vigorous optimism, when you could count on God, and County and your neighbor. The charm of that period lives on in the music of the 40’s… still lively with syncopated jazz riffs and sadly sweet, romantic ballads. Though their marching step was somewhat unpolished, they walked with a unity that can only come from the knowledge of their sure achievement in saving the world from tyranny.

Next came the men of the Korean War, men in their late-forties and early-fifties. This war is sadly referred to as the “Forgotten War.” These men walked with a solid gait, having persevered without the public accolades and attention of those that had served in the decade before or those that would come after. These soldiers walked with some ease and casually waved to the bystanders. As I watched, I understood that, had my father lived a longer life, he would have marched with this group. I squeezed my son’s hand and pointed out the beat of their feet on the pavement, and noted that my heart beat with that time.

The next wave of soldiers started to pass us. The Vietnam War Veterans were not much older than I, and I thought about my friends that had fought in that war. The times were so tumultuous and the decision to enter the military was more controversial than at any time that had preceded it in all of history. As well, the mechanisms of war were much more horrific and deadly. I thought of Kevin, a happy-go-lucky kid in our neighborhood that had come back from the sweltering humidity of Vietnam changed… more serious with an uncharacteristic edge in his demeanor. To my knowledge, he never spoke of his time there… not to his family and certainly not to us, his hometown friends. That he and others had returned to a nation that questioned the actions of these young men and women still haunts our days. These young soldiers made the commitment to serve our government without public reverence for their decision. That is a wound that must never be delivered again.

Contemporary men and women in service, marching crisply in unison, followed the Vets of the 60’s and 70’s. Some had already served in the Gulf and some could expect to be shipped to areas of conflict around the world at any time. They looked formidable in their desert combat uniforms, all tautly following command. I looked across the road at a mother anxiously scanning the unit for the unforgettable face of her child, and watched for the moment of recognition as she located the object of her love. Brimming with pride, she yelled out a name with joy and pointed rapidly so that her friends would not miss out on the gift of this moment. The realization of the sacrifice that she and her family had made was beginning to reach me like a scent carried lightly on a breeze.

The ROTC students from Amsterdam High School followed in step, their beautiful, unlined faces intent on their task. They lead younger children informally walking together from the boy scouts, girl scouts and, tying it all up at the end, the youngest Webelos and Brownies that may begin this march at age seven. Suddenly, the breath was pulled from my chest and the full impact of this parade of souls came to me. I stared incredulously down at the little boy at the end of my arm and could see the whole of this impossible offering.

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The oldest veteran to the youngest, silly sprout walks a path that tears our loved ones from the warmth of our hearth and sends them to the edge of the earth for the ideals our government is built on.

Regardless of politics, public furor, danger or exhaustion, our soldiers serve willingly, selflessly and courageously that we may continue to live in peace and prosperity. They enter into situations of loneliness, peril, boredom and chaos that others may have hope. Those that have marched in parades have returned to us. Remember also that others have not, or that they have returned to us broken and in need of our full support as a nation, as a community, as friends and as family.

THIS is what this day, Veterans Day, is all about.

Having grasped this concept, as desperately as I had held the hand of my son so long ago, let us all acknowledge that there can be no greater calling than that of a soldier and extend our deepest gratitude for the gifts that they have given so freely to us.

Thank you to the Veterans Commission for continuing this tradition and thank you with all of our hearts to each and every veteran gathered here today. God bless you and keep you, forever and always.

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