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A Community Choir organized by Kim Laursen, left, sang Battle Hymn of the Republic at the ceremony at the Schuyler County Veterans Memorial Park.

Schuyler Memorial Day services honor those 'who never made it out of uniform'

SCHUYLER COUNTY, May 29, 2023 -- The two Memorial Day ceremonies Monday -- in front of Shequagah Falls in Montour Falls and, later, at the Schuyler County Veterams Memorial Park outside Odesssa -- were similar in many regards.

The Odessa-Montour High School Band performed at both. The crowds were similar in size, each attracting more than 100 people. Each had Color Guards, and Taps performed by the O-M band's Jon Spencer, and readings of In Flanders Fields, and a keynote address by Odessa Mayor and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Messmer.

The Montour ceremony was emceed by the village's mayor, Jim Ryan, while the one at the Veterans Park was emceed by American Legion Post 676 Commander Rick Lewis. The Montour ceremony had some "honorary mayors" -- young boys who helped move a wreath to the base of a memorial marker (Henry and Evan Stephens, Finn Eberhardt, Finn Kelly, and Henley and Knox Colunio) -- while the Odessa ceremony had a Community Choir singing Battle Hymn of the Republic.

The speech by Mayor Messmer was the same at both ceremonies, and was both personal in nature and a call for all of us to not only honor our fallen soldiers, but "to continue our commitment to defend the legacy of freedom." The speech is reprinted here, as follows:

"Thank you for having me here today. I am honored and humbled to be a part of your Memorial Day Service.

"I would like to thank you all for taking time out of your day to stand in recognition and honor of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this Nation.

"We celebrate Armed Forces Day for those currently serving in uniform, Veterans Day for those who used to wear the uniform, and Memorial Day for those who never made it out of uniform.

"It is a day for us to stand as one body and say, thank you, we remember you and we are grateful because you represent the best of America.

"I would like to share, if I may, some of these great Soldiers with you, Capt. Dan Eggers, Staff Sgt. Victor Cota and Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo who lost their lives and had an impact on mine.

"The first was a native of Cape Coral, Florida, Captain Daniel Eggers, who was killed on May 29th, 2004, by an improvised explosive device during a combat patrol near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

"After graduating in 1997 from The Citadel, Eggers was commissioned in the Army, graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2002, and was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg.

"Capt. Eggers was assigned as a Detachment Commander, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom In Kandahar Province.

"I too, was in Kandahar Province with my team, our bases only a few minutes apart, at the time of his death. A month or so later I would be at Forward Operating Base Gecko when his team would get the intelligence that led them to the capture of the men that had killed him. I watched as the Blackhawk helicopter landed and took the team out to engage the enemy. Their mission a success.

"The irony of this is that I never met Dan, but his life would still have an impact on mine. A couple years later I would meet and serve alongside his widow, Capt. Rebecca Eggers.
I will never forget the example of strength and determination Rebecca always showed. She was and is the epitome of a Gold Star spouse. Her faith and patriotism never wavering, and to this day Colonel Eggers is still serving.

"The smile of Staff Sgt. Victor Cota was incredibly infectious. He served on the security patrol that safeguarded me in Baghdad as a part of the 4th Infantry Division. I rode in his vehicle on countless missions. Day after day, regardless of the conditions, he was always smiling, always positive and loved to serve his country.

"I was supposed to be sitting right behind Sgt. Cota the day he died, May 14th, 2008. I was called away to lead another mission. He died of wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device in Kadamiyah, Iraq.

"One of Sgt. Cota’s friends remembered him like this:

"'Of all the things I will miss about Victor, what I’ll miss most is the sound of his laugh.' He went on to say, 'He was known for his laugh. That’s how I’ll remember him: always telling jokes.'
"'Cota was 'a man of great warmth and great passion: passion for his job and for his family,' said Maj. Gen. John Custer.

"'He wanted to make the world a better place with his life, and he saw being a soldier as a way to do that.'

"Cota, known to his friends as Chico, loved to sing and dance and make people laugh, said a boyhood friend.

"Another friend said Cota didn’t care about the political aspects of the war. 'He loved being a soldier. He was a very proud soldier. He tried to fulfill his commitment with honor.'

"Sgt. Cota left behind a wife and two children.

"Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, was from Lawrence, Mass. I never met Sgt. Pichardo, but my son Capt. Gerry Messmer knew her. You see, Gerry, 17 years after my tour, was sent to Kabul for the withdrawal and had just taken over Sgt. Pichardo's duties so she could volunteer to work a security assignment that only women could do in Afghanistan -- screen the women and children attempting to flee the country.

"Sgt. Pichardo lost her life assisting two Afghan women who were being trampled by the pack of people outside the airport gates, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt on Aug. 26, 2021. My son was a mere 300 meters away when it went off.

"Sgt. Pichardo was killed, along with 12 other American service members, and 169 Afghan civilians in the initial blast and the gunfire that followed. Sgt. Pichardo’s commanding officer remembers her final words before she attempted to help the women on the ground: 'They need me, sir.' Sgt. Pichardo was just 25 years old and of Dominican descent.

"I would also like to remember Lance Corporal John Ingalls, my childhood friend killed in the Marine Corp barracks bombing in Beirut in October 1983; Master Sgt. Art Lilly, a Special Forces Non-Commissioned Officer who was not just a mentor, but a good friend I served with for several years; Sgt. Keith Kline, who worked with my wife Cathy running the Single Soldier Program for the Family Readiness Group in our Brigade; and Major Jim Ahearn, a fellow Civil Affairs Operator in our Brigade, all friends of mine who were killed in action.

"Despite ethnic differences, religious diversity, these and so many more were always Americans first. They persevered against all odds and made the impossible happen. No mission was ever too difficult, no sacrifice too great.

"They served in lands far from home, they served for those who cannot and for those who will not. It did not matter to them as they were guided by duty, honor, and country.
What can we do in honor of them? Help care for their wounded brothers and sisters; safeguard their families and support our Veteran Services.

"Whenever you see a veteran with their blue hat on, thank them for their service, welcome them home, especially our Vietnam Veterans who were never properly honored when they returned.

"These small things mean more than you can imagine. You could change a life. With 22 veterans committing suicide a day, you could save a life. It is what our fallen comrades would want from us.

"Philosopher John Stuart Mill may have phrased it best when he said, 'War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks nothing is worth war, is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares more about than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free.'

"As we remember and honor these brave warriors, the greatest tribute our nation can pay is to continue our commitment to defend the legacy of freedom. We know that the cost of freedom is high, but we must be willing to pay the price. Indeed, so the sacrifices of so many Americans are not made in vain.

"I would like to close with a poem written by a member of my family, a cousin who was killed in World War I, none other than Sgt. Joyce Kilmer. The poem is called 'Memorial Day.'"

Memorial Day

The bugle echoes shrill and sweet,
But not of war it sings today.
The road is rhythmic with the feet
Of men-at-arms who come to pray.

The rose blossoms white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie.
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky.

Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,
They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel
They plunged for Freedom and the Right.

May we, their grateful children, learn
Their strength, who lie beneath this sod,
Who went through fire and death to earn
At last, the accolade of God.

In shining rank on rank arrayed,
They march, the legions of the Lord.
He is their Captain unafraid,
The Prince of Peace ... who brought a sword.

"Thank you and may God Bless the United States of America."

Photos in text:

Top: Keynote speaker Gerry Messmer at the Montour Falls ceremony.
Second: The Color Guard at the Montour Falls event.
Third: "Honorary Mayors" move a ceremonial wreath to a memorial marker.
Fourth: The Odessa-Montour High School Band performed at both services.
Fifth: "Taps" was played at both ceremonies by O-M Band member Jon Spencer.


© The Odessa File 2023
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869