Veterans pay tribute to comrades during Watchfire
May 28, 2009
Veterans lit the path so their brothers and sisters in arms can find their way home during Memorial Day weekend.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen gathered Sunday night to honor fallen comrades and those missing in action at the annual Watchfire held at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
Sending his regards was Governor David A. Paterson.
"I am delighted to send greetings to the entire central New York community as you gather on this eve of Memorial Day for the time-honored tradition of the 'Watchfire' held in remembrance of our fellow citizens who made immense sacrifices for our country and its freedom," Paterson said.
"And today, as our armed forces remain ever vigilant in the fight against terrorism, we pray for their safety and success in this cause. I commend your community for its commitment to our veterans, and I join with you in saluting our most admired and noble patriots."
Nearly 20,000 people participated to show their support for men and women who have worn the nation's uniform.
This is the 18th year the Vietnam Veterans of America Central New York Chapter 103, based in Liverpool, has organized the event, which has grown from honoring World War II and Korean War veterans to honoring all veterans and active-duty troops.
Currently, there are more than 78,000 service members listed as Missing in Action from World War II; more than 8,100 from the Korean War; nearly 1,200 from the Vietnam War and one from Operation Desert Storm.
The Watchfire also serves to help heal the hearts of those whose loved ones may never come home and gives them a chance to release emotions they may be holding inside.
"I am proud of my service with the U.S. Army, it defined my life," said Dan Quackenbush, a former Army staff sergeant who served with 14th Transportation Battalion during Vietnam. "I will never forget those who came before, and I always hope to honor their memory and their service in my life."
The tradition of the Watchfire began in medieval times to help guide soldiers home from battle. In America, it was used during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars as a way to allow Soldiers to come in and receive treatment for their wounds and to gather their dead, as well as locate their units.
"Today, I am remembering two of my buddies who could not be here to share in today's event," said Ron Fairbanks, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America Central New York Chapter 103. "I just wish they could be here, and when I come, it is like rejuvenation and I can honor their memories."
The Watchfire also gave people an opportunity to properly dispose of old and worn-out American flags.
There are two ways to retire an American flag. People can either bury it or burn it with respect. Nearly 40,000 flags were burned Sunday.
There also was a board set up to give people a chance to write a personal note to someone currently serving around the world, to someone who may have made the ultimate sacrifice or to those still missing.
"We do this every year to give the veterans a chance to come together and dialogue problems and renew old friendships while discussing various issues," said Peter Bronstad, VVA Chapter 103 vice president.
The day also gave veterans a chance to share their experiences with their brothers and sisters in arms. Some also joined a chorus singing songs famous during World War II, Korea and Vietnam eras.
"This year, I am here to honor two of my first sergeants who we lost in Vietnam," said Michael Haven, a former Army sergeant who served with 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, during the Vietnam War. "It is sad that people have to die during combat, but this is the perfect time to be honoring them and the sacrifices our Soldiers have been making since our nation's beginning."