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Memorial Day gets under way with watchfire ceremony

 Residents and local officials are gathering for Memorial Day celebrations all across Central and Northern New York. The holiday to remember Americans who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces got under way Sunday evening at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.

A watchfire ceremony was held by the Central New York chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America to honor those who have served the nation. Members of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Drum, including the band, helped lead the ceremony. 

The commanding officer of Ft. Drum, Major General Mark Milley spoke and remembered all veterans who have fought in foreign conflicts from World War II through Iraq and Afghanistan.

“From me to you, my hat’s off. I salute every one of you. You are all American heroes,” Milley said.

The watchfire ceremony included the retirement, through burning, of over 10,000 American flags that had become tattered or worn and were not fit for display. According to the Vietnam Veterans of American, the watchfire comes from the military tradition of lighting a large fire after a battle so that missing or lost soldiers could find and rejoin their comrades.

Thousands attended Sunday’s event, which also included a motorcycle ride and a wall of remembrances that attendees could write on.

Recent veterans of the marines Jacob Schutt and Matt Ropp fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. They came to the ceremony to remember their friends who died in those conflicts and posted a sign on the wall in their memory.

“There were a lot of sacrifices we made, but it still doesn’t amount to the stuff that the guys on the wall, that are mounted up there, did. We did a lot, but they gave the ultimate one. So that’s something to remember them and try to live a little your life that way,” said Ropp. “It’s nice once a year to look back and reflect on it, you know. And just listen and see everyone else here put flags up… It’s nice to see that.”