This year's observances were uniquely remarkable and memorable for one landmark event, as the Village of Pawling became the first municipality in the United States to officially raise the Armed Forces Memorial Tribute Flag beneath the American flag and the POW/MIA banner.
There was a grand turnout of Pawling residents this year under bright, blue skies accented by fleecy white clouds that drifted gracefully over the solemn observances.John Claudet is the parade coordinator, and this annual event is made possible by the work of Claudet, Lou Musella, Mike Farrell, Ivan Hicks, and all of their fellow Pawling Legionnaires.
Post Commander Ivan Hicks began the ceremonies by paying tribute to the POWs and MIAs as yet unaccounted for, and Sergeant-At-Arms Lou Musella draped the POW/MIA banner over the chair that is left symbolically empty in dedication to those missing military personnel.
Musella gave the keynote speech, in which he described the history and the symbolism of the Armed Forces Memorial Tribute Flag.
Musella said in part, "There could be no better way of preserving the memories of our associations in the great wars, or teaching our future generations about the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, than the Armed Forces Memorial Tribute Flag.
"This flag is not about war. It is not about peace. It is not about politics, and it is not about protest. This flag simply pays homage to the brave men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in battle. This flag should be a proud and lasting tribute to our fallen."
Presenting a letter from an American soldier who now flies the Tribute Flag in his unit in Iraq, Musella read aloud, "The meaning and symbolism behind the Armed Forces Memorial Tribute Flag are wonderful representations of the courage of numerous Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice while fighting to make the Middle East, America, and the world a safer place. My Tribute Flag now hangs in our brigade's project coordination cell, where it serves as a daily vigilant reminder of the dangers with which we are faced, and the sacrifices we may one day be asked to make."
Musella concluded, "To me, the POW/MIA flag and the Armed Forces Memorial Tribute Flag below Old Glory signify that the two groups, the POWs and MIAs, and our fallen comrades, spiritually have their arms wrapped around Old Glory, and they are saying, 'Don't worry, we have you now. Nobody will ever take you down.'"
Kevin Eberly of Pawling has composed what is now the official poem of the Tribute Flag. Eberly intoned the stirring lyrics of "Remember Our Fallen Heroes", which concludes with the following stanza:
This flag is to honor the fallen
As a reminder Freedom Is Not Free
These heroes gave their lives for their Country
They gave their lives for you and for me
One traditional element of the Memorial Day ceremonies is the symbol of an individual poppy for each of the 17 Pawling residents who have been killed in war, plus an 18th poppy for all who have died in military service to the nation. Each poppy is placed by a young Girl Scout or Boy Scout in an inverted helmet that is suspended from a tripod of U. S. Army rifles between the war monuments. Each name is read aloud, and the poppy is placed in the helmet, to the accompanying bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace played by Kevin O'Rourke.
World War II veteran Corporal Elmer Smith of the United States Air Force draped the wreath over the inverted helmet in honor of the fallen heroes.
Following the ceremonies at the village center, the parade and crowd moved to the military cemetery.
World War II veteran Woodrow Devine, U. S. Army Tech Sergeant, placed the wreath on the American Legion monument, after which bugler Dan Burgard filled the air with a scintillating rendition of Taps. The plaque reads, "Dedicated to the men and women of Pawling, New York, who devotedly served their country in time of war."
Betty Gallagher sang the National Anthem.
The public address sound system is provided annually by Tom Nicks.
The wreaths are donated by Ed and Mary Mahaffey, and Willis Stephens and Vincent Leibell.
The Pawling Girl Scouts, Brownie Troop 550, Boy Scout Troop 34, Cub Scout Troop 34, and the Pawling Little League marched in the parade, and 18 of these youngsters placed the poppies in the inverted helmet.