Walkway ceremony draws veterans and others to observe Memorial Day

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LLOYD – On Sunday evening, the Walkway Over the Hudson hosted a sunset Memorial Day Eve flag-changing ceremony to honor local service members who lost their lives defending their country.

The event was scheduled to take place at the flagpole in the center of the span but was relocated to the pavilion on the Highland side and include a flag-changing ceremony. An all-girls troop of the Boy Scouts of America, Troop 3055, began the ceremony by leading the attendees with the Pledge of Allegiance.  The retired flag ceremony was performed by the Pleasant Valley American Legion Post 739.

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, a graduate of the USMA at West Point was joined by his Dutchess counterpart Marc Molinaro.  Dutchess County Director of Veterans Services Adam Roche and Ulster County Veteran Services Director Mark Cozzupoli represented their respective departments.

Molinaro said, “This day is not just names etched on a brass plaque but real human beings whose families carry on with an immense loss.”  He also said, “It is up to us to give meaning to that loss and to recognize that there are families who struggle with that loss.”  Ryan, who was deployed to Iraq during his military service, said “Memorial Day is a day that we must grapple with the human cost of our decision to send our young men and women into combat.”

Cozzupoli was presented with the retired flag.

Cozzupoli spent 26 years in the Air Force and recalled a time during one of his five deployments that make Memorial Day important.  In 2011 in Afghanistan, Taliban forces shot down a Chinook helicopter, killing all 38 onboard.  31 passengers were American military, including Special Forces.  Cozzupoli was at the base when the flag-draped coffins were prepared for their transfer stateside, during the Dignified Transfer Ceremony.  He recalled standing at the base with 5,000 other members of the military during the ceremony.  “I had conflicting emotions  – I was so sad about what I was witnessing, but at the same time, I was so proud to be out there with my brothers and sisters seeing something like that and knowing that they had given their lives so we could all be free.”

Roche, a battle-tested Marine, implored the attendees to keep the memory of the fallen alive.  He took a moment to thank those that braved the bad weather to honor the dead.  “Men and women made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  Standing in the rain for a few minutes to honor those sacrifices is not too much to ask.”

The ceremony ended with 16-year-old New Paltz resident Laila Mach who recently competed on American Idol, singing God Bless America.