DELMAR — With Memorial Day coming up this week, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are ready to honor those who have died in service to the country.
Each year the VFW and American Legion switch the responsibility of nominating and voting for the Bethlehem Memorial Day Parade’s grand marshal. The VFW and its members nominated and voted for Leslie Gene St. Lawrence to be the Grand Marshal for 2023.
The organizations named the same grand marshal for the last two years due to the COVID pandemic. So this is special for St. Lawrence.
St. Lawrence joined the Air Force in August 1952 and served in the Arctic for four years. While stationed in the Arctic, St. Lawrence worked in communications and encryption. After serving with the Air Force, St. Lawrence joined the Army and qualified for Special Forces and became a Green Beret. He will tell you he served for 22 years, nine months, and 18 days.
“He really is a dedicated guy, but you wouldn’t know from talking to him,” VFW member Larry Pitman said.
Although most of St. Lawrence’s life was in the military, the one thing that remains a source of pride for him is being a New York boy through and through. Of his many achievements, one he never forgets to mention is that he is a graduate of Schenectady High School.
During his 22 years in the military, St. Lawrence received the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palm, Vietnam Special Forces Jump Wings, the Combat Medical Badge, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and many other awards for his service.
He was stationed in Vietnam and endured the Tet Offensive in January 1968.
While in Vietnam, he recalls one of his Special Forces missions required disease collection to send back to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. He also served in Okinawa for a year and a half following World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I was very proud to [serve],” St. Lawrence said. “I was glad to do it; it made me a better person.”
Memorial Day is a busy day for both the VFW and the American Legion, but honoring the fallen soldiers of the past and present is important to both.
The Saturday before Memorial Day, May 27, the VFW visits four different cemeteries to lay flags at the graves of fallen soldiers. The American Legion also lays flags at Bethlehem Cemetery and Mt. Pleasant Cemetery with the help of the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts troops. On the morning of Memorial Day, the VFW and American Legion have their own respective services for those who have fallen, starting at 9 a.m., including the American Legion’s service for Francis Currey.
The parade starts at the American Legion and ends at Bethlehem Veteran’s Memorial Park. The American Flag will be lowered and then raised at the end of a service led by Legion Commander Lyle Maddock.
This will be Maddock’s last year as Legion Commander, who, after six years in his post, will have the longest tenure in the 92 years of Post 1040’s existence. Due to this being Maddock’s last year as Commander, it is a really special and emotional Memorial Day for him.
“Hopefully, I can keep it together, but I probably won’t,” Maddock said. “My father’s banner is the last banner before leaving town. This year, it will be humbling to see his banner when we walk that way.”
So far, the VFW has placed 104 banners on utility poles around town that honor local veterans. These banners will remain until Veteran’s Day in November; however, the request for a banner is ongoing and will continue throughout the year.
Following the parade and the service at Bethlehem Veteran’s Memorial Park, the VFW, and American Legion invite the community to their respective posts for an Open House. The community can come to tour the buildings, see new renovations and speak with the veterans, including St. Lawrence, who will be at the VFW.
As we get closer to Memorial Day, Maddock and Pitman want the community to remember the true meaning behind Memorial Day, honoring those who have fallen in the line of service. The thank-you’s are, of course, appreciated, but they shouldn’t be going to those who have served or are serving on Monday.
“This is for the people who were killed in service,” Pitman said. “Where Veteran’s Day is for all those who served, and Armed Forces Day are for all those who are serving.”
Maddock also asks that the community learn as much as they can about fallen soldiers on Memorial Day. He recommends an app, WWI Memorial Virtual Explorer, that gives a virtual tour of the new WWI memorial in Washington, D.C. The app also gives users personal histories of fallen soldiers that are highlighted throughout the memorial.
Memorial Day is about honoring those who have fallen, but it is also a time to learn about their stories. That sentiment is among the most important come Monday to the members of the American Legion and VFW.