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September 14, 2010

Whiteface Memorial Highway feted at 75

WILMINGTON — Amid fits of sun and rain, words from President Franklin D. Roosevelt bounced back off Whiteface Mountain.

It was 75 years ago Tuesday that Whiteface Memorial Highway was dedicated to American veterans — at first to soldiers of World War I, then 50 years later to veterans of every U.S. war.

"We've seen many wars and conflicts," said Ted Blazer, CEO of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs the popular visitors route winding up the side of Whiteface.

"But this mountain stands steadfast. It is first and foremost a memorial."

ROOSEVELT RECALLED

Through breaks in a dramatic sky, actor Doug Lansing revisited the president's impromptu dedication speech from 1935.

"What I have seen today in this wonderful drive makes me more enthusiastic about four little words than I ever have been before," he quoted Roosevelt. "Those four little words are these, 'It can be done.'

"Back in those days when we were talking about this tribute, there were 'doubting Thomases' who said: Let us keep the mountains of the Adirondacks for those who seek to get close to nature, who want to climb to the highest peak on foot, who want to camp.'

"It is only a comparatively small proportion of our population that can indulge in the luxury of camping and hiking. A far greater proportion of the population will be served than if this highway had not been built.

"To me, this is one of the finest things that the state of New York has ever done."

VETERANS PLEASED

Listening to the commemoration from the back of the crowd, Philip K. McKinney, 92, leaned back on his heels and crossed his arms.

He graduated from high school in Lake Placid in 1935 and the next year joined the U.S. Army, serving until 1963.

"This is a Veterans Highway," he said. "I belong to the (American) Legion, and we have a day we come up, we go clear to the top to celebrate it.

"There's not too many of us left," he said of World War II soldiers.

"I think it's wonderful to have this road. A lot of people couldn't get up there any other way."

Wilmington business owner Al Armstrong, who retired from the U.S. Marines after 20 years and is member of the American Legion, called the highway "a true jewel for Wilmington."

The Whiteface Memorial Highway, he said, "is a magnificent reminder of what is best about the United States."

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