Soldiers join 25th annual Watchfire
May 31, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Fort Drum Soldiers participated Sunday in the 25th annual Watchfire event in Syracuse, where veterans from all over gathered to pay tribute to service members who never made it home and to retire American flags during the ceremony.
The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 103 hosted the Watchfire in the Veterans Memorial Watchfire Park at the New York State Fairgrounds.
The event kicked off with the 10th Mountain Division Band playing a mix of different rock style music for the thousands in attendance. Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, division senior enlisted adviser, also attended the event.
"This is the weekend for remembering all who have given everything defending this great nation," Milley said. "Ceremonies like this are great ways of honoring our fallen brothers."
Watchfires are a Memorial Day tradition with roots going back to the Revolutionary War.
Vietnam veterans have come together to build such fires according to the military regulations and specifications of the 1700s, when fires were used to help guide stray Soldiers home from battle.
In 1987, Vietnam Veterans of America Morrisville Chapter 293 held its first Watchfire in Madison County, honoring veterans who gave their all for our way of life.
In 1995, the event honored American veterans of World Wars I and II and Korean War; in 1996, it was dedicated to Gold Star Mothers; and in 1997, the event was dedicated to honor women in service.
The years since 1997 have been dedicated to all U.S. veterans.
All veterans were welcomed to join in a formation before the lighting of the fire to further honor those who had fallen during combat.
The flags that were retired during the event were honorably disposed of after the playing of taps by a Fort Drum bugler.
"It's the one time of year when we can gather together and honor all those who never made it home," said Michael Jenkins, a veteran from the Vietnam War. "It is good to see some of the old faces from last year, but it is always good to see new veterans for the first time."