Memorial Day ceremonies are taking place throughout Western New York today. The event in the town of Poland, New York, features a keynote address from Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan, who retired as an Air Force Colonel.
Horrigan shared some of his thoughts with WBFO as he prepared for today's remarks in Poland, the Chautauqua County town with a population of about 2,300.
"You can see the emotion in people's faces in small town America," Horrigan said.
"It's one of the things we hold so dear in this part of the country in our small towns and villages...We're neighbors, we're friends, we know each other. And there's a closeness that we especially feel during these ceremonies."
Horrigan also shared a personal story of a friend who lost his life while flying near Fallujah. The fighter pilot, Troy Gilbert, was returning from a previous mission when a call for support came from a battalion under attack
"Troy had already expended his munitions, but he knew the situation was urgent," Horrigan recalled.
"He elected to use his 20-millimeter gun, in which case you have to get very close down to fight off the enemy. While employing the 20-millimeter to ward off the attackers on the column, Troy was shot down and lost his life."
Horrigan sees changing attitudes when it comes to paying respect for military personnel.
"It is different today and it's hard to put your finger on it. Maybe, it's because we remember the returning veterans from Vietnam who were not treated with a level of respect," Horrigan said.
"I think there's a greater appreciation and a greater respect for those who voluntarily sign up to defend our Nation."