By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA–For many, Memorial Day is a welcome opportunity to relax with friends and family and mark the unofficial beginning of summer. But on Thursday afternoon, Niskayuna High School students, teachers, alumni and friends gathered for a somber annual remembrance of three alumni whose presences are missed each year during the holiday picnics and parties.
Robert S. Cragin Jr., Vernon F. Hovey III, and Richard W. Starkey, who graduated from Niskayuna High School in 1962, 1964, and 1965, respectively, were killed in action during the Vietnam War.
“This September, the class of ’64 will celebrate our reunion, and my neighbor and friend Vern Hovey won’t be able to attend,” said Jake Schuler, representative for the Class of 1964, during a short but powerful speech. “We can’t change that. But there are some things we can do. We can continue to remember them as our friends, as our neighbors, classmates here in Niskayuna.
“Most of all, what we can do and we must do is make sure that Bob Cragin, Richard Starkey and our classmate from 1964 Vern Hovey and all of the other veterans that have gone before and will go after are never, never ever forgotten,” Schuler said.
Student participation in the ceremony seemed to assure that Schuler’s wish would be granted. Niskayuna’s Bel Canto Voices provided an a cappella soundtrack, and Chad Rockwell, a junior, closed the ceremony by playing Taps as the veterans saluted. Sarah Beitch, president of the student congress, read the poem “Grass” by Carl Sandburg. And four graduating seniors were recognized for their commitments to join the United States Military after their June 26 graduation.
Cecilia Halvey will leave for basic training on July 15, and Michael Landry will leave for the Virginia Military Institute just two days after graduation, on June 28.
“Through this I can do something bigger for the world,” Halvey said. She follows a family tradition that includes her sister, who entered the Navy in 2004, and her cousin, who served during the Korean War.
Landry said he welcomed the opportunity for personal growth. “I wanted to be challenged every day, and I’ll get that in the military,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to serve my country.”
Brigadier General Daniel Bradt, Class of 1965, said he was excited for the students who would be carrying on the legacy of Niskayuna’s veterans.
“It’s going to add maturity to them,” he said. “They won’t even realize they’re being changed.”
Bradt’s experience was different from the graduating seniors’, as he was drafted, while Halvey and Landry volunteered. But he said the value would be the same. “Whether you’re in enlisted ranks or officer ranks, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to have responsibility, more so than you’ve ever had in your life,” Bradt said.
The ceremony itself, which included speeches, prayer, song, and a flag placement for each of the three honorees, was emotional and serious. But the community of old friends, faculty, and students found much to celebrate, laughing and reminiscing together after the program had ended. But as rain drizzled on the old friends walking together to their cars, the day’s message lingered.
As Bradt said during his address: “Life is short, no matter how long you live, so let us rededicate our remaining time to honor those who have sacrificed so much by living the better life, that purpose-driven life, the life that they would have wanted us to live.”