A man standing next to him with a walker and a World War Two hat with two Purple Hearts leaned down and said to him, “It’s okay, buddy. We all lost a lot. We all lost a lot.”
That man was Fred Latz, 86, who fought with the Rainbow Division on D-Day, where he lost many of his comrades. Latz went on to get one Purple Heart at the Battle of the Bulge and the other in Metz, near the border of France and Germany.
“I’m a member of the same VFW that he [Mason] is, and I know how all of them feel,” said Lutz
Despite the blistering heat, veterans, emergency-service providers, ballplayers, the high school marching band, girl scouts and boy scouts, and other organizations all came out to March in the annual New Paltz Memorial Day parade. The rest of the community lined the sidewalks along Main Street and crowded around the memorial rock outside the fire station to honor fallen soldiers. They sent their thoughts and prayers to those still fighting conflicts in various parts of the world.
“There is no greater event or parade that we have in New Paltz than our Memorial Day parade,” said county legislator Hector Rodriguez, who has marched in the parade for the past eight years and was walking alongside town supervisor Toni Hokanson. “It’s about honoring those that died protecting our rights and our freedom and making us safe, and there’s probably no where safer than New Paltz, New York.”
It was important to think about and honor those that have not only fought in past conflicts, but who are still fighting in conflicts throughout the Middle East, “including members of my own family,” Rodriguez said. “My brother-in-law just came back from a tour in Iraq.”
Donna Lapolt, a longtime New Paltz resident as well as a 25-year volunteer for the New Paltz Rescue Squad, was there to cheer her fellow emergency-service volunteers on as well as to honor those that had fought for our country. “This is the first year I couldn’t march because I hurt my leg,” she said. “But I still wanted to be here to cheer everyone on.”
“This is my third parade today,” said Tom Saunders, a village resident who had attended the Wallkill parade in the morning and then the Kingston parade at 2 p.m., where his son, Eric marched with the Kingston Fire Department.
“And now I’m here,” he said. “I think it’s very important that we all take the time to honor our veterans, those that made it home and those that gave their lives for our freedom.”
Loud shouts and applause went out from the crowd lining the sidewalk. Various veterans marched passed with their color guard. The members of the all-volunteer New Paltz Fire Department were dressed in their finest gear, carrying flags, a symbolic ax and bouquets of flowers. The New Paltz Police Department was represented by chief Joe Snyder, lieutenant Steve Osarczuk and K-9 officer Bobby Knoth. Musician Levon Helm was in a car with various veterans of war.
Teresa Thompson and her husband Doug, co-owners of The Bistro, were there to represent the New Paltz Town Recreation Baseball and Softball Association, whose teams marched in the parade. “We are invited every year by our local VFW,” she said. “And I think it’s important for us and our children to come out here and support the veterans of our community, the emergency-service providers of our community, and all that they’ve done and continue to do, not just here in New Paltz but for our entire country.”
Vietnam War veteran Ed Madsen opened the ceremonies outside Fire Station 1 on Plattekill Avenue, where the parade came to a rest, invoking the recent passing of the last surviving World War One veteran, Frank Buckles. “Frank Buckles fought in the war that was supposed to be the War to End All Wars,” said Madsen. “But it wasn’t. He and his sons then fought in World War Two, but that didn’t end all wars. His grandsons fought in Vietnam and Korea, and now his great grandsons have to face Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“It’s great that we think of these veterans, and those that gave their lives, today,” he continued. “But we should honor their memory all of the time. Do we think of them in July when we’re lighting our barbecues? Do we think of them in November when we’re giving thanks to things they’ll never enjoy? Do we think of them in December when we’re opening gifts that they will never be able to receive or give? It is our duty to honor them, to remember them, and to thank them.”
Fred Latz said he recently moved to New Paltz from Queens because his wife is in a nursing home here. “This was the only day I haven’t gone to visit her, because I had to come to the parade. It’s my duty. This is a day to honor our dead here and overseas as well as our veterans who gave so much and lost so much. It’s a day of sadness. My father fought in World War One and I still think of it as Armistice Day, but it’s important to be here for me.”
“Let’s go back to the club, Larry,” Latz said to Mason, who had fought in Vietnam for three years.
A car pulled up and escorted the veterans back to the VFW post on Route 208, where they could enjoy a respite from the heat, a cool drink, and be among their brothers of various wars.