CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — The southern Saratoga YMCA on Saturday put a pause on its busy weekend programming to stop and recognize all military veterans living in the community at the organization’s annual Veterans Recognition Day event.

Each year as Veterans Day approaches the local branch of the YMCA holds a public ceremony in its gymnasium to give the veterans and their families a chance to socialize and receive a public thank you from an appreciative community.

The event asks organizations with connections to the military like the Civil Air Patrol, National Guard, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Clifton Park Elks, Therapy Dogs International, and the New York State Military Museum to attend the event and set up information tables for the veterans and their families to peruse.  

The emcee for the event was Katie Massie, director of membership for the Southern Saratoga YMCA. Massie noted that she has several family members who are either serving in the armed forces or have served in the past. As preparation for the event, she asked each of them what Veterans Day meant to them.

“I think my uncle who is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force said it best,” Massie said. “Veterans Day, he told me, is a day for all citizens to take a minute and recognize the veterans who have given their all for their county so that we may have the freedom that we take advantage of each day.”

Joining her in thanking the 125 veterans in the audience and their family members were Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston Spa.

Tonko noted the 20th Congressional District is home to many veterans and said he honored all veterans who’ve served this country so it can remain “a beacon of hope." But he noted also, that the country owes the veterans something in return.

“I think that as we gather to salute our veterans, we need to remind ourselves that they call upon us a sense of responsibility, a challenge that will forever remain for us,” he said. “The way we reflect upon and respect our veterans is to make certain that we embrace each and every value, and principle, and freedom for which they fought and for which many died.”

In his remarks, Tedisco looked back on his many years of making Veteran’s Day speeches.

“Whenever I made [those] speeches, all those events, all those speeches, when I left, I always felt I had fallen short because we can never commemorate or show the appreciation we have or feel is necessary for the men and women we are honoring today,” he said. “We live these inalienable rights at the highest level of anyone in the world because of what these men and women did.”

Walsh acknowledged that being a state legislator has allowed her to do many things connected to the military. She has flown in the C-130, visited a local Nuclear Power Training facility, and interacted with veterans and veterans’ groups throughout the area. Thanks to those meetings and the events in which she participated, Walsh said she has come to know much more about the veterans’ community and thanked the veterans in the room for their service.

As part of the event, the Southern Saratoga YMCA donated $500 to the Foreverly House, a planned home for recently discharged woman veterans in Ballston Spa as they transition to civilian life. The two-story home will be the only one in the state that houses women veterans and their children.

The event’s keynote speaker was Brig. Gen. John Andonie, Director, Joint Staff, New York State National Guard. With the 75th anniversary of World War II’s Battle of the Bulge fast approaching, Andonie gave a brief history of what many call the most important battle of the 20th century.

“The German army’s effort to flip the Allied front didn’t happen because of the resolve and the determination of the American soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine,” he said. “The veterans of that battle exhibited the same qualities of all of American’s veterans in every war that we’ve ever fought; the resolve and commitment to defend freedom and our way of life. I believe that’s in the heart of every American veteran. That’s what we do because we believe in these things.”

When the veterans themselves stepped to the microphone to make a few remarks one of the most riveting was Dan Riley the very first veteran who stepped up. Riley, 95, served in the Navy in World War II with an amphibious unit. He recalled being on board ship when it was announced that President Roosevelt had died.

“It was quite a traumatic day because we all wondered what the hell would happen next,” he said. “There wasn’t a sound. We were all looking down at our shoes. We wondered who was going to look out for us. Nobody knew a thing about [Vice President] Harry Truman.”

Another veteran, Eugene Martin, 90, a Korean War veteran, gave thanks to the YMCA for keeping him spry and for the Leatherstocking Honor Flight organization that flew him to Washington, D.C. to see the military monuments.

When it came time for New York Army National Guard, LTC, retired, Paul Fanning to speak, he put the coda on the day.

“We’re not going to forget,” he said.

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