There were fewer seats, due to COVID-related guidelines, but the same spirit as the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park hosted its annual Veterans Day ceremony. Alternate memorials were held elsewhere in the park, including one led by peace activists seeking to "Reclaim Armistice Day."
"Like any good soldier, we have learned to adapt," said Paul Marzello, the park's president and chief executive officer. "And we are here today because we have an important mission at the Buffalo Naval Park, and that is to honor and thank our veterans. And that's what we are going to do."
Local boy scouts provided the invocation and the benediction while members of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps in Buffalo provided the color guard. Several invited elected officials took turns speaking, led by Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. A Navy veteran and Judge Advocate General, Flynn acknowledged those still in the service. They include his brother, who is a 2004 graduate of the Naval Academy and is currently second-in-command aboard the destroyer USS Arleigh Burke.
"I'm hopeful that this day today gives us an opportunity to put aside the issues that this country faces and this world faces, quite frankly," Flynn said. "We have a pandemic, obviously, that is raging across this county, the state, and this land. We have political turmoil that, unfortunately, is permeating throughout this country."
Veterans were celebrated not only for their service in the military but for their commitment to the local community. Rep. Chris Jacobs noted the Naval & Military Park stood along Buffalo's waterfront before other developments arrived. He also spoke of how the community has, in turn, taken care of its veterans.
The Erie County Clerk's Office, which he previously led, serves as a keeper of copies of veterans' honorable discharge papers.
"Around that role, we created a program called the Thank-A-Vet program. Simply, when a veteran put his discharge paper on file, we issued a free picture ID certifying they were an honorably discharged veteran," Jacobs said. "And then we what we did is we went out to area businesses and said 'would you give a discount at your business if they show this card?' And the generosity of the business community in this city, in this area, was second to none."
Not all the speakers were elected officials. One guest leads one of the Naval & Military Park's neighbors. Michelle Urbanczyk, chief executive officer of Explore and More Children's Museum, noted that her organization is a Blue Star museum, meaning it receives funding from a corporate donor that supports free admission to the facility for veterans.
"I hope you continue veterans' legacies and that these stories continue to be told, and they need to be supported," she said. "Their legacies are too important to lose. I work with children. And our children don't know Sept. 11. They don't know World War II, they don't know the Gulf War. But through our partnership, they're learning it."
Other ceremonies were held within the park Wednesday morning. Not far from the hangar where the park's official event was hosted, a ceremony was held honoring local Hispanic veterans. Some of those who attended the park's event later appeared at this gathering, including State Sen. Timothy Kennedy and Rep. Brian Higgins.
Today we joined @HHCWNY's Veteran Committee for a #VeteransDay award ceremony honoring the many veterans of WNY and the incredible role Hispanic veterans have played in protecting and serving this nation.
Thank you Jorge Edmundo Velasco, William Colondres-Rosado & all veterans. pic.twitter.com/rwJdPNBF36
— Brian Higgins (@RepBrianHiggins) November 11, 2020
A short walk away from that ceremony was another gathering hosted by the Western New York Peace Center. The theme of their event was "Reclaim Armistice Day." Participants say when it was made a federal holiday in 1938, Armistice Day was intended to remember the end of World War I, but also express the nation's dedication to the cause of world peace.
President Dwight Eisenhower renamed the holiday Veterans Day in 1954 as a means to honor all military veterans, not just those from World War I. Activists suggest the holiday has since evolved into one which celebrates war.
One of the speakers, Tom Casey, even quoted Eisenhower's April 1953 "Chance for Peace" speech, which opined against increased military spending. He then added his own thoughts.
"The United States spends more on our military than the next seven countries combined. And this includes five of our allies," Casey said. "Four percent of our military budget could end world hunger and bring clean water to every human being on Earth. And obviously, it could be used to fight COVID-19, provide every American health care and end homelessness, improve education and many other needs."