A stark POW/MIA chair stood near the altar where the statue of the Blessed Mother seemed to watch over it from behind at the Annual Memorial Day Mass May 25 at St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus. The chair served as a reminder of those still listed as Prisoners of War and Missing in Action. According to the Department of Defense, 83,281 Americans are still unaccounted for: 73,624 from World War II; 7,883 from the Korean War; 126 from the Cold War; 1,642 from the Vietnam War; and 6 from Iraq and other conflicts.
Led by a Color Guard bearing the American flag, veterans processed in and placed their service hats before the altar. The Book of Remembrance, listing deceased loved ones who served in the military, was placed on the POW/MIA chair by a veteran and Camillus Town Justice Stephen Poli. The Mass was celebrated by Father David James, a chaplain at the VA Hospital in Syracuse, with newly ordained Deacon Richard Camaione, a Navy veteran, assisting.
During his homily, Father James spoke of the struggles facing the veterans he has met and to whom he has ministered, explaining to the congregation that veterans not only face physical obstacles, but also mental difficulties, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and struggles with faith. Father James told the story of one recently returned soldier who was in charge of a security unit in Iraq. Under his watch, a busload of 21 civilians died. This soldier was so devastated by his failure that he felt unworthy to go to Mass or receive the Sacraments. He felt that he ruined his relationship with God. Father James helped this soldier realize that he may have lost these lives, but by his actions, he had saved thousands of others. Many veterans face similar difficulties when returning home.
The Offertory Gifts were brought up by Gold Star parents Belle and Ray Brown. Belle Brown wore the traditional white suit associated with a Gold Star Mother who has lost a child in active duty. The Browns lost their daughter, Mary Browning, who was about to retire from the Navy after 19 and a half years when she was reactivated after Sept. 11. She lost her life soon after.
Following Communion, Commander John J. Trombetta, U.S. Navy (Ret), currently serving with the N.Y. Naval Militia, shared facts about Arlington National Cemetery, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Commander Trombetta reminded those present to not only remember those who gave their lives in service to their country, but to also recognize those who have served, present and past. As each branch was called out, its anthem was played and those who served in that branch were asked to rise and be acknowledged. All then stood in silence as Dr. Mark Pisik played Taps.
When Mass ended, Boy Scout Troop #407, carrying an oversized parade flag, led the veterans and parishioners to the parish center for refreshments. According to troop leader Chris Fletcher, “We try to make [the troop] understand that we do this to honor veterans.” Troop #407 also participates in the Camillus Memorial Day Parade, which was headed up for many years by Fletcher’s father, Ed Fletcher.
St. Joseph’s Church holds this annual remembrance at the 9 a.m. Mass on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and always welcomes active duty service members, veterans and their families.
Barbara Grigson is a parishioner of St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus and is an administrator in the diocese’s Finance department.