Gold Star service held

Photo by Breanna Nelson Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello speaks at the Gold Star Memorial.

JAMESTOWN — What does it mean to be a hero?

Veterans, Gold Star Mothers, Blue Star Mothers, local representatives and community members gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in Jamestown on Saturday at 10 a.m. for the Gold Star Memorial service, established in 2013, that serves as a visual remembrance of lost heroes during the Memorial Day weekend.

Susan Rowley, President of the Chapter 4 Blue Star Mothers, opened the seventh Gold Star Memorial by calling forward veterans and people of service from all over the area and all walks of service.

‘It just amazes me how many veterans are here,” said Rowley as she stood together with veterans to honor their fallen friends, fallen servicemen and fallen servicewomen, the people who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Since its creation during World War II, the national Blue Star Mothers organization has existed to provide support for active duty service personnel, to promote patriotism and to assist veterans organizations in communities across the country.

“Where would we be without the less than 1 percent of our population who are brave enough to stand up and protect us all?” Rowley asked as she discussed the losses of the 19 men and women from our area who fought and fell in peace keeping missions, conflicts and wars while in service to our country.

Representative for U.S. Representative Tom Reed R-Corning, Katrina Fuller stepped forward to speak during the memorial. “There are no words I can say that will fill the spot where your loved one once stood. There’s a place for them in your hearts that won’t be filled by anything I can say. But I pray, that you know that while we are here today honoring them, they are not forgotten. We have made a space for them too.” Fuller said. “Because of the ideals they held dear and their desire for this chance at freedom, they put their lives on the line and fought for that chance.”

Also speaking at the memorial were 57th District Constituent Specialist and Lakewood Village Board Trustee, Randall Holcomb; State Assemblyman R-Jamestown, Andy Goodell; Chautauqua County Executive, George Borrello; Jamestown Mayor, Sam Teresi; and Keynote Speaker Col. Charles Watkins.

Holcomb shared the thoughts of many community members while he spoke to the crowd. “The brave men and women of our military personify words like honor, courage and sacrifice. Our sincere thanks and deep admiration goes to each and every one of you.”

On a similar note Goodell, who has a daughter that served, shared his joy on being able to meet his granddaughter and witness other life events for both his daughter and granddaughter- circumstances not all military families get to experience. He also stated that the memorial served to have people gathered to make sure that their names are never forgotten. “When we do so, we also recognize what they gave for their country.”

Speaking to the sacrifices and losses that the Gold Star Memorial families have faced, Borrello pulled words from history that held true on this occasion. “Thomas Jefferson said, ‘the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’ On Memorial Day we honor those patriots, reverently remember their sacrifices and grieve as a nation with their families.” He continued to show appreciation for the families and the sacrifices from servicemen and servicewomen all around the world. “We are the greatest and freest nation on this earth because of the sacrifices of the brave men and women of our armed forces.”

Col. Watkins, has served for the past 27 years in the United States Marine Corps, both on active duty and in the reserves. He currently serves as the deputy director, Aviation Command and Control Teams based in Great Lakes Naval Station, Ill. and lives in Ellicott with his wife, Leah Johnson and their three daughters.

Speaking as a man who has experienced the loss of servicemen and women on personal and professional levels, Watkins brought a new perspective to the memorial. “I have lost military friends and colleagues in combat, in training, and on R&R (rest and recuperation), the sting of death doesn’t discriminate. It hurts all the same.”

Watkins went on to tell a solemn story of a time he had to deliver a final investigation report to a gold star family after the plane crash on July 10, 2017, an accident from which 15 Marines and one Navy corpsman didn’t make it out.

Watkins’ delivery was to the family of Sgt. Owen J Lennon, crew chief on the plane. Lennon’s parents were Irish immigrants that “raised a family of patriots” and were extremely proud of their son. Upon his departure from the family, they gave Watkins a copy of Lennon’s memorial card, a card that Watkins had in hand on Saturday. “I never met Owen, but I’ll never forget him.” Watkins used this story as an example for the story behind each and every serviceman or servicewoman and the memories held by every Gold Star family.

Watkins quoted a definition for the word hero, a word spoken many times during the memorial. “Hero: one who acts selflessly for the common good, instead of actions with the goal of death, pride and/or fame.” He added that with their stories, actions, patriotism and morals, every veteran, active member of service and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice are all heroes in their own right, heroes for the country.

Beyond the new tree that has been donated, bringing the now-rededicated tree count to eight, Teresi said over the next year there are to be more additions to the Veterans Memorial Park. The plans include parking improvements, lighting improvements, additional security improvements, curbing, a new gathering point and a pavilion space.

Rowley also thanked the community for helping fund over $20,000 worth of postage to send almost 1,400 care packages to deployed troops already so far this year.

Before closing out the memorial with a firing squad salute by the Vietnam Veterans Honor Guard, a violin tribute and a bagpipe benediction, the Blue Star mothers listed off the names of all 19 area servicemen and servicewomen that have made the ultimate sacrifice and for each a white balloon was released.

For those interested in knowing more about the mission of the Blue Star Mothers, email Chapter 4 President Susan Rowley at bluestamothersny4@yahoo.com or call 499-6897.