October 24, 2021

Memorial Day ceremonies adapt amid coronavirus

Photo by Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Joe Riley, left, of the Homer Fire Department and Jay Forbes of the Homer Police Department raise the flag Monday while Vincenzo Perfetti salutes during the Memorial Day ceremony at Homer’s Glenwood Cemetery. The ceremony was closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.

When Julie Niederhofer was asked to speak at Homer’s Memorial Day ceremony Monday, she wasn’t sure how her experience as a nurse could compare to soldiers who died for their country, she said.

Having helped out during the COVID-19 pandemic at a New York City hospital, she related her experiences and some of the similarities between health care workers treating patients in the city and soldiers fighting in a war.

“Our battlefields are hospitals,” she said. “Our soldiers are health care workers,” she said.

Only ceremony participants were allowed to attend the event because of the coronavirus pandemic. Also, Homer’s parade was canceled.

Niederhofer, who usually works at Cayuga Cayuga Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery in Ithaca, shared the messages of sacrifice that inspired her from veterans about the work she and other frontline healthcare workers have done since the pandemic began.

“While this Memorial Day ceremony will be unlike any before it, I am thankful that we have found a way to remember and honor those heroes who gave their lives to protect strangers,” she said. “Their sacrifices will never be forgotten and one way we can show our respect and appreciation is to follow their example. We can acknowledge and accept that we need to make many sacrifices of our own in the months ahead to protect our loved ones and also strangers.”

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Julie Niederhofer speaks Monday while Paul Powers, the commander of Homer’s American Legion Post 465, watches during the Memorial Day ceremony at Glenwood Cemetery in Homer. Niederhofer, a nurse, shared her experiences working in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic and the similarities shared between frontline workers and soldiers.

Niederhofer described how the situation was similar to nurses who served in the Vietnam War, where many of them came right out of nursing school and were put in positions that weren’t addressed in classes.

She was inspired by her colleagues and the random acts of kindness by others to support the frontline workers, like donating food or making masks and cards.

“These are the moments I will hold on to,” she said. “It would be easy to get dragged down to all we have lost and all we had to give up this year. But we will come together as one to fight for each other,” Niederhofer said. “We will face this war head on. We will do this for our loved ones and for strangers because protecting each other is simply the right thing to do. We will not be broken and divided by this pandemic.”

This year also marks the 45th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.

Francis Riter, who served in the Navy Seabees during the Vietnam War and a member of the American Legion Post 465 in Homer, shared the history of the war. Between, 1965 and 1973, more than 3.4 million U.S. personnel served in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand or on the South China Sea, he said.

Nearly 60,000 of them were killed or reported missing in action.

“To the 58,200 men and women killed, missing in action — or have passed away since — I say ‘welcome home,’” Riter Said. “I have never forgotten you and never will.”

In Cortland, a brief ceremony was conducted in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Tioughnioga Post 2354 on Main Street by members of Marine Corps League Detachment 221 and the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 377 from Dryden.

Norm Stitzel, the public relations officer for the post, gave two prayers to honor all of those who have died, especially those in Vietnam and World War II, which in 2020, he noted, marked the 75th anniversary of its end.

Not all of those who served in the Vietnam War died overseas, Stitzel said, noting the thousands who have died from cancer related to Agent Orange exposure and suicide.

“To those now silent battalions marching before you, God, we plead for renewed strength, and power to preserve all for which they died,” he said. “As with humble hearts, we pay our respect to our departed comrades. We recall their accomplishments and promise to keep the peace in which they fought and paid for in blood.”

Ceremonies were also conducted in Groton and Marathon, but events in Preble and Cincinnatus were canceled.