UTICA — Into its third year honoring military veterans on one side — and first responders on the other — the Utica Area Foundation’s Wall of Honor stood as a most meaningful backdrop Monday.
American Legion Post 92 leaders offered a Memorial Day program near their entrance on South Washington Street, just yards away from the wall of honor on the other side of the road. A good-sized crowd gathered under a large shade tree, with some people sitting on fold-out chairs along South Washington Street. The Utica High School Band offered a number of patriotic songs through the program.
“It’s just such an asset to us to have the wall of honor as our neighbor across the street,” said Mike Flaherty, American Legion Post 92 commander, before the ceremonies were underway.
Once the ceremony began, Flaherty commended all veterans for their service, their families, and other community members who make celebration of Memorial Day a priority. There are numerous youths in Utica who are largely responsible for flag raising during holidays and other occasions, he noted.
“We’ve got a strong, tight community here,” Flaherty, an Army veteran and Vietnam-era active serviceman, told onlookers.
One who liked sitting near the wall of honor was Jack Raines, a U.S. Marines Vietnam War veteran. He stood out, wearing a Purple Heart medal. In Vietnam, Raines distinguished himself by carrying a wounded fellow Marine to safety.
“Three days, later, he was carried to safety himself and came back home,” said a friend, Marie Johnson. She also enjoyed talking with Army veteran Forrest Davis, 86, a life-time Utica resident. During the Korean War, it was his duty to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
“The switching of the guards at Arlington Cemetery is one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen in my life,” Johnson said.
The main speaker for the American Legion service was Terry Holobaugh, an Army Medical Corps veteran who served with artillery groups in Vietnam whose job it was to engage with and protect large howitzers. He described their “housing” as box-shaped structures in the ground with sandbags over the top for protection. Sometimes the North Vietnamese regular Army forces would charge and the only thing keeping Holobaugh and fellow soldiers safe was air cover that brought the fire of napalm to those battles.
Holobaugh spent much of his speech stating his view that members of the Merchant Marines sacrificed as much as U.S. Navy forces during World War II in terms of ships and mariners lost. But Merchant never received the respect afforded to Naval and Marine troops, which he said remains a regrettable fact of U.S. war history.
Memorial Day events in Utica started early in the morning with veterans and families visiting cemetery sites, including Bell, Eden Church, Homer, South Lawn, Bridge, North Lawn, and Veterans Park.