Veterans Day ceremonies at the World War Memorial in Riverhead and at Calverton National Cemetery marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
Prior to 1954, Nov. 11 was known as Armistice Day — the day the armistice agreement was signed and the bloody, four-year war that claimed the lives of more than 16 million people formally came to an end.
“It was known as the war to end all wars — sadly, it wasn’t,” Suffolk American Legion Commander Mike Pankowski of Riverhead said to a small crowd gathered this morning on the lawn outside the Suffolk County Historical Society, where the annual wreath-laying ceremony takes place.
“It was a day dedicated to the cause of world peace,” Pankowski said. “In 1938, Congress made it a national holiday. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day,” he said.
“If you love freedom and liberty, thank one of our 21 million American men and women who swore with their lives to protect it,” Pankowski said. “Veterans day is our time to salute them all.”
Members of the Riverhead Combined Veterans Committee, which organizes the annual ceremony, placed memorial wreaths at the base of the granite monument dedicated on Memorial Day 1920 to the nearly 300 Riverhead men who fought in what was then called the Great War — and the nine who made the ultimate sacrifice. See: “With 300 native sons fighting in Europe, Riverhead celebrated the armistice with parades, parties and prayers”
Judi Kettrick sang the National Anthem and prayers were offered by the chaplains of Riverhead’s American Legion and VFW posts.
“Our history as a nation has never been seeking isolation from each other in opposite corners,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, guest speaker at the Riverhead ceremony, said. “It has always been to find strength in our ability to find common purpose in our shared values. That is nowhere more apparent than in the military. Unity in the armed forces transcends all differences,” she said.
Veterans have “made the world safer for those not even born yet,” she said.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, who spoke at the ceremonies at Calverton National Cemetery, told those gathered there today that “this country and everything that makes it the greatest country in the world is but one generation away from extinction … if we don’t have the brave men and brave women to defend it
and defend our freedom.”
Maj. Gen. William Terpeluk (Ret.) of the 77th Regional Readiness Command, founded in 1917 and based at Camp Upton in Yaphank, was the keynote speaker at the Calverton National Cemetery ceremony. He spoke of the message on a plaque at Fort Totten, which said it was “dedicated to those who gave their lives and their blood for the United States of America.”
The soldiers could not have better described the sacrifices of their comrades, Terpeluk said.
“They did not measure themselves by victories on the battlefield. They measured themselves by the cost of war — their cost of war,” he said.
“No speech today could be more poignant that that inscription — powerful, respectful and loving, all at the same time,” Terpeluk said.
“Honor that inscription by remaining constantly in awe of that message. And as long as there are Americans to answer the call to defend our liberty, that message and that memory wil be as strong in 100 years from now as it is today, Nov. 11, 2018.”
Today also marked the 40th Veterans Day ceremony at Calverton National Cemetery, which had its first interment on Sept. 11, 1978 and its first Veterans Day ceremony that Nov. 11. It is the busiest national cemetery in the country.
There are nearly 5,000 World War I veterans buried at Calverton, cemetery director Michael Picerno said.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti
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