People think about three things on Memorial Day.
The first two are the price of hot dogs and the price of gasoline, joked Art Maggy, master of ceremonies at the annual Memorial Day celebration at the American Legion Post 20 in Plattsburgh. But the most important thing to be mindful of, he said, is the price of freedom.
Veterans paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy, Maggy said, writing a blank check to this country up to and including their life.
American Legion Auxiliary Unit 20 President Mary Somody stressed the importance of remembering those who paid that price and what it means for us today.
"Please let it not be in vain," she told the crowd.
That morning when thinking of what she would say at the event, Somody said, she found what she was looking for in Scripture.
"Greater love knows no man than to lay down his life for a friend," she quoted from the book of John.
Following a proclamation from Gov. David Paterson read by Dale McMahon, a representative from each foreign conflict as well as from every group present took part in the ceremonial laying of the wreaths.
The Post 20 Honor Guard performed a 21-gun salute, and the crowd echoed the words, "We will remember them."
In addition to the American veterans groups, members of the Royal Canadian Legion were honored with a rendition of "Oh Canada" following "The Star-Spangled Banner."
"You've caused us certainly not to forget, but to remember," Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Bernie Bassett said to the group.
Visiting his brother Max Bassett in Washington, D.C., he said, he had an opportunity to see more than 600 acres of sacrifice at Arlington cemetery.
Relaying a message from his brother, the town supervisor told those present that, while the ceremony may feel lonely, the veterans are not alone. Many people, he said, support our troops.
Congressman Bill Owens was also present, relating his own personal feelings to the crowd.
"Today is so important," Owens said. "I feel overcome by emotion."
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey quoted a poem that has been circulating from an unknown author over the Internet.
"A veteran, not a preacher, gave us freedom of religion. A veteran, not a reporter, gave us freedom of the press … A veteran, not a politician, gave us the right to vote."
The assemblywoman said that this day always reminds her of the day she learned that her brother-in-law, Arthur, had died in the jungles of Vietnam. Although it was more than 40 years ago, she said, she can still remember going to the post office after hearing the news, only to find a letter from Arthur relating just how proud he was to be an uncle.
Guest speaker Col. Karen E. Love said Memorial Day gives people a chance to gather as a community, not only to remember those who have fought, but to support those fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the biggest ways people can support veterans and active troops is by doing the little things, she said. Many soldiers returning from the Vietnam War lacked support back home, and a smile, nod or a quick "Thank you" can make all the difference, said Love, who served at the Plattsburgh Air Force Base as a KC-135 aircraft commander in the 1980s.
"It is in these small gestures that we can encourage and support our troops."
After serving in Plattsburgh, Love joined the Wisconsin Air National Guard and then later returned to the state and joined the New York Air National Guard in Stratton. Retiring in 2007, she was given the honorary rank of colonel and became a teacher at the high school in Lake Luzerne.
Being given so much as an American, the only thing she wanted to do after retirement was to help others.
"It was time for me to give back."
Love said her real heroes were her family back home, who supported each other while she was away. Not only should veterans be honored, she said, but those who are back home attempting to fill their shoes also need to be thanked for their efforts.
Love refueled planes in the air and flew missions to Antarctica for more than a decade. She said she enjoyed everything she was a part of.
"Anything I did to contribute to this great nation was amazing," she said. "It's so easy to gripe, but we live in the best country."