By Doug La Rocque
“As long as people long to be free, the United States will be there.” It is with those words John Defreest Jr., President of the Veterans of Stephentown, summed up military service to this great country and the world. He emotionally told the story of his time in the U.S. Army and challenged other veterans to tell their stories as well. Joining Mr. Defreest on the podium on Saturday, November 11, was Congressman John Faso, Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino, County Veterans Service Agency Director Peter Goebel, Stephentown Town Supervisor Larry Eckhardt, Dan Casale, representing State Senator Kathy Marcione, Father John Close of St. Joseph’s Church, and the guest speaker for the day, former Congressman Chris Gibson.
Congressman Faso told the crowd of veterans, young and old, and those who joined them to show their support on this brisk and windy Veterans Day, “that we are blessed to live in a country that is so great because men and women, over the course of 240 years, have fought to preserve our rights.” Ms. Jimino added, “today, we remember those who went off to service and did not come back.” Mr. Gibson told those gathered for the dedication, “never in the history of mankind, has there ever been a country so free and so prosperous. We stand together for the idea that men and women can live free.”
The monument, unveiled to the public on Saturday, is a re-creation of a memorial erected when a member of the military service has died on the field of battle. Service members often refer to this as “a fallen soldier battle cross” or “battlefield cross.” It consists of the deceased’s helmet, weapon, boots and dog tags, placed on the ground on the battlefield or at a base camp, where a brief memorial service is held by the surviving members of the fallen warrior’s unit. The use of the “battlefield cross” has become a symbol of loss, mourning and closure for the living.
Mr. Gibson served 24 years in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of colonel before his retirement in 2010. He served in the Gulf War, Kosovo and the Iraq campaign, receiving four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, among many other ribbons, and a Ranger Tab. He served three terms in Congress before retiring at the end of 2016. He is currently the Stanley Kaplan Distinguished Visiting Professor of American Foreign Policy at Williams College, and the author of four books, the most recent being Rally Point: Five Tasks to Unite the Country and Revitalize the American Dream.
Also participating in the ceremony were members of the Berlin Elementary Band with Jessica Gould and Bethany Keeme, who played the solemn echoing version of taps.