Jagow: 'Give thanks for those who served'
At dozens of locations around Niagara County, elected leaders helped thank veterans and war dead on Sunday and Monday.
While the words were unique to the individual leader presenting them, the message was the same: Thank those who served, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
In Pekin, County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow spoke before a monument dating two years after the end of the Civil War. Jagow's Monday morning remarks were preceded by a lengthy recitation of the names of war dead from every conflict since Niagara County's 1808 founding.
Jagow, who reflected on his own father's service in the Philippines in World War II, and his lament that he had not properly thanked his father for that service, asked county residents to take the time to thank veterans for the sacrifices they had made.
"As a youngster looking at some of the pictures that (my father) had from his stint in the Philippines, I would think that this was something so very, very special," Jagow said. "It wasn't until I grew older that I realized it was truly a hellish nightmare, and that a lot had to be endured."
The Philippines was the site of a number of Japanese war crimes, including the infamous Bataan Death March, as well as a long simmering guerilla war on Corregidor Island. The island nation remained under Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.
"I really wasn't given an opportunity to talk to my father about it, because unfortunately my father died at a very young age," Jagow said. "I never had the chance to say 'thank you' to him for his service."
Jagow said that that missed opportunity prompted him to take action as county clerk to make sure that other veterans are honored for the sacrifices they have made for freedom - big and small alike - beginning the moment that veterans register with Niagara County.
Following discharge from military service, veterans receive a document called a DD 214, or Department of Defense Form 214. To gain full access to veterans services, veterans are encouraged to record a copy of their DD 214 with their local county clerk. Jagow saw an opportunity in this, and created the "Thank a Vet" program, a partnership with local businesses.
"Men and women who have served in the military come into our office to file their discharge papers, and they leave with a card that identifies them as a veteran," Jagow said, referring to locally generated plastic ID cards developed by his office. "When they go out into the community, I'm very proud to say that we have businesses that recognize that card that offer extended services and discounts to the vets, just to say 'thank you.' "
Veterans are also provided a list with the many dozens of vendors that offer veterans discounts, as well as the nature and amount of the discounts.
Jagow noted that he expects his staff to honor veterans 365 days a year.
"I think it's very important for us, as a community, to take the time to say 'thank you,' " Jagow said. "Literally, in my office, the staff drops everything to make sure that these men and women are given their moment."
This has produced some heart-rending moments.
"One Vietnam veteran came into my office and literally brought my first deputy to tears because she makes it a point to take the hand of any individual that has served our country and say 'thank you for your service,' " Jagow said. "His eyes welled up and he was crying and my deputy asked what was the matter. He said, 'For all the years that I've been back, this is the first time anyone has ever said "thank you" to me.' "
Jagow said that the Thank a Vet program is just the most tangible form of that thank you.
Meanwhile, across the county in Somerset, County Legislator John Syracuse addressed a large crowd gathered at Veterans Park.
Of the war dead, Syracuse said, "These men and women, whether on the battlefield or stateside, gave of themselves for people like me, who they have never met. I will be forever grateful."
Syracuse praised veterans who served in all of the nation's wars, but most notably the fights against Nazism and Communism. "These men and women served to win freedom for others - freedom from Godless men and tyrants," he said.
Drawing biblical parallels, Syracuse read from St. Paul's first letter to Timothy, where Paul counsels, "O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you."
Citing the need for leadership at home and abroad, and the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform, Syracuse said, "The deposit these men and women made on the battlefield and stateside must not be forsaken."