ITHACA, N.Y. — On Memorial Day, community members took time to honor, remember and celebrate the men and women who have died serving in the United States military.

There was a pause in the rain just in time for Tompkins County’s 98th Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday, which drew a crowd of more than 50 people to DeWitt Park in Ithaca. The ceremony was the culmination of a morning dedicated to remembrance in Ithaca, with other ceremonies and events at local cemeteries.

In a prayer at the beginning of the ceremony, Christine Kerfoot said they were eternally grateful for everyone who has served and sacrificed for their country.

“We are grateful for the sacrifice so many throughout our history have made. For the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice and for their families who have had to carry on without them. This is a sacrifice that is easy to forget. For those who have it, freedom is like oxygen. It is something we take for granted. Many will not understand just how precious either is until they are at risk of having it taken away. Today, we remember a sacrifice made and a debt that cannot be repaid,” Kerfoot said. “Also … we remember their sacrifice and the precious gift of freedom every day, not just once a year or when we are in danger of losing it. For those who have served and sacrificed, we are eternally grateful.”

Memorial Day is a chance to remember the approximately 1.1 million men and women have died in U.S. wars. Though Memorial Day was not declared a federal holiday until 1971, Americans have held annual ceremonies to honor fallen soldiers since after the Civil War.

Waterloo, New York, is considered the official birthplace of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was previously known. On May 5, 1866, the village first began closing businesses and decorating the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. It became an annual tradition after that, though the day shifted to May 30 after orders in 1968 by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, many believe the end of May was chosen for the holiday because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

Veteran and special speaker Paul Nazer said when he was a child, Memorial Day was just another day off from school filled with family, friends, picnics and fun. When he got older, he was drafted by the United States Army and served a year in Vietnam.

“After serving in the military, I found out what Memorial Day really stood for,” Nazer said. “The men and women who gave up their lives so the rest of us today could wave our flags and ring in our freedom, that’s what it’s about.”

Below are images of the Tompkins County Memorial Day Ceremony at DeWitt Park taken by Ithaca Voice Contributor Aidan Setlock and Reporter Kelsey O’Connor.

Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 961 speak and conduct the ceremony. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 961 speak and conduct the ceremony. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Aidan Setlock/Ithaca Voice
Lisa LaDieu sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” during the ceremony. Aidan Setlock/Ithaca Voice
Lisa LaDieu sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” during the ceremony. Aidan Setlock/Ithaca Voice
Aidan Setlock/Ithaca Voice
Aidan Setlock/Ithaca Voice
Aidan Setlock/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Aidan Setlock/Ithaca Voice
Johnny Russo plays “Taps.” Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Johnny Russo plays “Taps.” Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Featured image by Aidan Setlock/Ithaca Voice Contributor

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.