“All gave some; some gave all.”
Those words adorn the entryway to the Syracuse VA Hospital, serving as a reminder of the true price of war — and the reason we need to celebrate and remember our veterans.
The Liverpool Public Library held its seventh annual Veterans Appreciation Evening on Thursday Nov. 8 in an effort to do just that. At the event, eight veterans answered questions posed by five sixth-graders from Liverpool Elementary about what it means to be a veteran. The event also featured a piano performance, the recitation by members of a Liverpool Girl Scout Troop of a proclamation by President Bush and refreshments.
Nov. 11 has been set aside to honor American veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the United States of America, said Elizabeth Dailey, LPL’s executive director. These veterans are here tonight to tell us their stories. For them, patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice are more than just words.
LPL hosts the event every year to honor veterans and educate people about their experiences. Each year, the library chooses a different school within the Liverpool Central School District to come up with questions to pose for the veterans. This year was LE’s turn.
We’re very proud to be here, said Kim O’Neill, an LE teacher who advised the students that asked the questions. In class we discussed the origins of Veterans Day, and we came up with some questions to ask the veterans.
Those questions and some of the answers provided by the veterans follow.
Who was president when you served and was it a popular or unpopular war?
Five of the eight veterans (George Leggett, Reggie Chester, Dino Paschetto, Fred Wyker and Earl Butterfield) on the panel served in World War II in various locations and capacities. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president of the United States at the time, and all noted that the war in Europe was seen as necessary.
“Popular opinion was that we needed to stop Hitler,” Leggett said.
Two veterans (John Landers and Michael Yablonski) served during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, when first John F. Kennedy, then Lyndon Johnson, then Richard Nixon served as president. Vietnam, Landers said, was far less popular than WWII.
“Vietnam was very unpopular,” he said. “There was a lot of protest. It’s unfortunate that people felt that way, but a lot of people fought for their right to speak up.”
Another vet (George Alessio) spent his time in the service in Italy during the Cold War. He enlisted in 1981, when Ronald Reagan was president. He is still a member of the naval reserves.
The last veteran (Richard Senecal) served several military bases in the U.S. during the Korean War under the Dwight Eisenhower administration.
How hard was life in the war and the military?
“I think we’ll all agree that life in the military has its ups and downs,” Leggett said. “There’s the esprit de corps, and that’s what keeps you there. But it could sometimes be very frightening.”
Alessio, though not himself a combat veteran, agreed.
“Whatever happens, you’re trained to do and react in a way to protect yourself and your comrades,” he said. “But you never know what’s going to happen.”
Why did you enlist?
While many were compelled to join by the draft, others chose to do so, and all expressed pride and gratitude for the opportunity to have served their country. Some were drawn by the promise of three square meals and clean sheets, others by the promise of adventure overseas. Others had more mundane concerns.
“I was a sophomore at New York University’s College of Engineering,” Paschetto said. “There was a message from the dean that anyone who was drafted or volunteered for the service wouldn’t have to take the finals, so I went and enlisted.”
How should a high school student prepare for a career in the military?
The veterans recommended joining organizations like the Boy Scouts, which preach preparedness and give outdoor training. They also advised would-be soldiers to talk to recruiters and veterans to get a sense of what life is like in the armed forces.
How were you trained?
The combat veterans recalled their boot camp days — some more fondly than others.
“I had a drill sergeant who had a heavy accent,” Landers said. “I couldn’t always understand what he was saying, but he got the point across. And sometimes the words weren’t very nice.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.