ITHACA, NY — Family, friends, and members of the Tompkins County community gathered in Dewitt Park for a ceremony on Friday morning to celebrate Veterans Day.
The ceremony was kicked off traditionally with the national anthem, followed by a short introduction made by Kerman Glaser, who served in both the Navy and Coast Guard during World War II. Glaser was stationed in the South Pacific during the war, working on a tanker bringing oil from Panama to Navy fleets.
Following Glaser’s introduction were remarks from Master Sgt. Jason Hall, decorated with a bronze star and two purple hearts. A traditional laying of the Veterans wreath was followed by remarks from various members of the VFW as they decorated the memorial statue with roses and flags.
Among some of these members stood Rick Beardsley, who will be turning 70 this year. Beardsley, who was a sergeant in the Army, led an infantry squad during the Vietnam War.
“It was nice to see people show up, it was nice to have people come in,” Beardsley said, as he glazed over the crowd of people. “Actually, it was an honor for me to see all these people here today.”
Norman Wheeler, age 80, currently lives in Lansing and served as a lieutenant colonel in the Army.
“If I make it through this day, it’s all that matters,” he said with a smile.
Wheeler had served in the Navy for eight years before joining the Army. “After the Navy, I went to college, and things just weren’t working out in the country,” he said. “I decided I’d come back in.”
Wheeler attempted to join the Navy again after deciding to re-enlist. However, the Navy only offered him a low-ranking position upon re-entering, far lower than he knew he deserved after already spending eight years with them. He contacted the Army, and after receiving a better offer, decided to join. Between the Navy and Army, Wheeler said he spent a total of 22 years enlisted in the military.
As he looks down at a piece of paper in his hands, he explained that this was a list of all his brothers, many of whom have passed, and all the places they were stationed. The folded piece of paper was scattered with the names Wheeler brothers who had served during WWII, the Korean War, Pearl Harbor, the Normandy Invasion and other iconic moments in U.S. history.
“In my immediate family, I’ve had 9 brothers who have served in the military,” he said, with tears in his eyes.
The ceremony was followed by a smaller gathering of the Patriot Guard Riders, who presented the Ithaca Police Department and the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department with a memorial plaque and flags as thanks. Tompkins County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Dan Donahue, said that ceremonies and celebrations like these are what bring people together.
“For me, personally, it means so much to see people come out to honor people they don’t even know for what they’ve done,” said Donahue. “It’s such a selfless act, and that’s what we stand for. They give up so much for themselves, so it’s the least we can do – it’s what brings us all together as a community.”
IPD’s Chief John Barber shared a similar sentiment, and said this was an event to celebrate despite national turmoil following the results of this week’s presidential election.
“For me, it’s no different this year,” he said. “Every year I come down here to honor the veterans and the sacrifices they made, and I’ll continue to be here every year – I wish more people would come down here.”
As the ceremony came to a close and people shuffled out of the park, a small boy in a cub scouts uniform fearlessly approached Beardsley with his hand outreached.
“Thank you for your service,” he said with a smile and a slight lisp.
Returning the grin and the handshake, Beardsley replied, “you’re more than welcome, buddy. Thank you for showing up.”