Mayor Helps Kick Off Veterans Day Services

Chaplain Team Was Army's Ministry Team of Year

Utica Mayor David Roefaro helped kick off the Veterans Day remembrance by taking the opportunity to hold a ribbon-cutting for the round-about at Oneida Square and dedicate the flag pole in the new veterans park at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument there.

Utica Post member Johnnie Stenson helped city officials cut the ribbon, and the mayor, who thanked veterans for what they've done for community and country, helped lay the first wreath of the day.

Joining him in placing the wreath at the foot of the monument was the ministerial team of Col. Gary Howard (Ret.) and Sgt. First Class Timothy Morrell (Ret).

The chaplain and chaplain's assistant offered prayers at all six monuments on the wreath-laying tour, and since they've been coming from Johnstown, NY and Philadelphia, PA for many years to join Post 229 and other veterans organizations in conducting Memorial Day and Veterans Day services, they were given the honor of placing the first wreath with the mayor.

It was not the first time they've been in the spotlight. The former Army reservists, who for many years trained with the 98th Division out of the Army Reserve Center on Burrstone Road in Utica, were named the 98th Division's Unit Ministry Team (UMT) of the Year in 1989, quickly followed by being honored as the First Army's UMT of the Year. The First Army was so impressed that it activated the team in 1990 and deployed the pair to the Mid-East for Desert Shield.

They were the first chaplain team to enter Iraq, and minister to the first casualties. They were assigned to the 170th Engineers, under the operational control of the First Infantry Division. "Our mission was to breach the berm and minefields into Iraq" and "clear an invasion route" for Desert Storm, Chaplain Howard recalled.

Apparently the U.S. Army was impressed with their performance because following their tour, they were named Forces Command Unit Ministry Team of the Year in 1992, with Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Defense James O'Bryon presenting the award in Washington, D.C.

But Colonel Howard and Sergeant Morrell said that what impressed them was Utica Post 229, and that's why they are members even though they live out of town and out of state.

Noted the chaplain: "I'm always impressed by the tremendous amount of talents and gifts that people who served in the military bring with them, and by the tremendous diversity here."

Added the sergeant: "I come here … for the brotherhood."

Snow, Rain Doesn't Dampen Spirit of Day

The snow and rain soaked the Veterans Day crowd but didn't dampen the spirit of the day as the participants moved from one monument to the next to honor the fallen and show gratitude to veterans.

The public and people associated with Utica's veterans organizations made their way from to Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Oneida Square to the three monuments on the Memorial Parkway (Vietnam, POW/MIA and World War I/World War II/Korean War), then on to the Purple Heart Park in West Utica before heading to the final stop at the All Veterans Memorial at the Main Post Office on Pitcher Street.

Coordinated by Utica Post 229, the wreath-laying ceremonies included the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Oder of the Purple Heart, the Disabled American Veterans, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the 40 & 8, the Polish League of American Veterans, among others.

Wreath LayingPolitical leaders joined in the day's remembrance. Congressman Richard Hanna (2nd from left) helped to place the wreath at the All Veterans Memorial with Larry Badger (VVA), Tom Buono (VVA) and Joe Fraccola (Purple Heart). One of Hanna's staffers, former Air Force pilot Shirley Eadline, joined former Marine Vin Egresits in laying the wreath at the Purple Heart Park (below).

WreathFollowing the ceremonies, a busload of veterans and family members returned to Utica Post 229 for a final wreath -laying and for a buffet lunch. Congressman Hanna joined the crowd along with State Sen. Joe Griffo and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi.

The BARBERShoppe Belles quartet entertained the packed hall with several a capella renditions (including the Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America), receiving rousing rounds of applause.

The committee that organized the day's activities was chaired by Utica Post's Paul Wojcik and included representatives from the other veterans organizations.


Ribbon Cutting
Johnnie Stenson helps Utica Mayor David Roefaro cut the ribbon at the Oneida Square round-about.
Wreath Laying
Chaplain Gary Howard, Mayor David Roefaro and SFC Tim Morrell place wreath at Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
Post 229's Tony Palladino and Eleanor King place wreath at World War I/World WarII/Korean War Monument on the Memorial Parkway.
Post 229 Color GuardUtica Post 229 Color Guard.
Joe Ziemba
Post 229 member Joe Ziemba renders salute.
Phil Capraro
Post 229 member Phil Capraro salutes during the ceremonies.
VVA color guard
VVA Color Guard.