State Sen. George Maziarz recounted his involvement in the Honor Flight Program, bringing World War II veterans to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was helping a wheelchair-bound, 89-year-old former Marine through a gauntlet of third graders who had been let out of school to welcome the veterans to the memorial and thank them for their service. One little girl reached out to the ex-Marine and said: "Thank you for joining the Army!"
Unfazed, the ex-Marine shot back: "Honey, I joined just for you," to which the girl exclaimed to classmates, "You know what? He joined the Army just for me!"
"She was right," Senator Maziarz said. The ex-Marine, "like all of you here," joined the military "for little boys and girls like her."
Niagara Falls, which is currently constructing a memorial tribute to its war dead, has a long history of support for military service, noted Mayor Paul A. Dyster. He offered a few examples: From the French and Indian War, where the Devil's Hole Massacre took place, to the War of 1812, where pitched battles occurred along the Canadian border, to the Civil War, which claimed nearly 800 local residents who went off to serve.
When delegate body quickly passed a resolution commending Niagara Falls for its hospitality, the mayor returned to the podium to offer his thanks and quipped: "You should go to Washington and show Congress how to do business…That was quick."
Department Commander Timothy S. Van Patten gave a brief report, noting the visits to all counties were "truly an American Legion Family" effort -- because he, Department President Sally Johnston and SAL Detachment Commander John Knapp went as a team. The visits confirmed his primary message: "We play a vital role in our communities and we need good public relations" to get the word out "on all we do."
Repeal 'SAFE' ActThe delegate body overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the New York State Legislature to repeal the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act. Hoping to ensure that veterans ceremonies involving weapons were not in violation of the law, the resolution passed with a thundering roar of "ayes." The resolution claims the gun control act goes too far and violates the Second Amendment Rights of veterans, and also urges police departments to respect veterans rights to own firearms of their choice.
Dues Motion FailsA motion to raise Department dues by $8 failed after a roll call vote of 264 to 207 with one abstention. An initial voice vote, with loud "ayes" on both sides of the issue, led to a request for the roll call, which followed short speeches by three delegates in favor of the motion and three opposed to it.
Prestigious Law and Order Awards were announced:
-- Firefighter of the Year Thomas E. McCory of Lakeville Volunteer Fire Department and Livingston County Emergency Management Services. He was cited for 35 years of service in emergency services and fire ground tactics, first with Honeoye Falls Fire Department in Monroe County and then with Lakeville and Livingston County. He has served as firefighter, lieutenant, deputy chief and chief, and is Lakeville's training officer, guiding and teachers new firefighters and seasoned veterans alike in the use of equipment and interior attack tactics.
-- Fire Department of the Year honors went to West Webster Fire Department for 87 years of service protecting the community, which today includes 10,000 homes and 500 businesses within a 28-square-mile area. The department responded to 2,440 calls for EMT and fire service in 2012 -- including an early morning house fire on Dec. 24 when the first responders faced a hail of gunfire in an ambush. The shooter killed two firefighters and wounded two others before killing himself.
-- EMT of the Year David Hazleton of Brocton Fire Company. Hazleton was cited for responding to 94 percent of calls for emergency medical assistance , which average 340 calls per year -- many times being the only certified emergency medical technician on the scene. He has served 40 years as a firefighter and 30 years as an EMT, first with Portland Volunteer Fire Department and now with Brocton, which honored him as EMT of the Year in 2010 and then with the Stanley Smith Memorial EMS Award in 2011. Hazelton served in the Army during the Vietnam War era and is a member of John W. Dill American Legion Post 434. He has been active on the Brocton Central School Board and with the Village of Brocton, including being elected mayor in 2012.
-- Police Officer of the Year Benjamin F. Scalise Jr., an investigator with the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Herkimer. During the latter part of 2011 and into 2012, Scalise investigated a robbery at Dari-Del Convenient store in the Town of Schuyler. After interviewing over 50 individuals, viewing video footage from an establishment across the street from the robbery, and following up leads, Scalise tracked the robbers to Pennsylvania and then Virginia. Due to his refusal to give up on the case, both suspects, along with a female accomplice, are serving lengthy state prison sentences. Further investigation revealed their involvement in other unsolved cases -- the suspects stole a pocketbook from an elderly woman, knocking her to the ground, at the North Utica Price Chopper, and broke down the door at the home of a World War II veteran in the Town of Herkimer, threatening him with a knife. Scalise is as retired Army National Guard first sergeant who did a combat tour in Iraq. He is also a volunteer State Police Veterans Assistance Counselor and has been involved with the Central New York Veterans Outreach Center in Utica.
Several other top awards were also announced:
-- Legionnaire of the Year Frank Gee of Lt. R. B. Kimlau Post 1291, First District, New York County. Saying he was "deeply moved" and "humbled," Gee said the award really recognizes "the true values of community service" and all the Legion Family members who make any community service effort possible.
-- Eagle Scout of the Year Jesse P. Corcoran of Glen Spey, Sullivan County. He was unable to be present to accept the award because of a mandatory college orientation, but Scouting Chair Stephen Mataraza shared a letter from the scout. "I feel honored…because of your great commitment to our country." Noting he was named after his grandfather, a Korean War veteran and American Legion member, he described the Legion as "an organization made up of American heroes."
-- American Legion Meritorious Service Awards went to Jim Casey of Queens County and Anthony DeNatale of Richmond County for their disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. In addition, at the Sons of the American Legion session, dual member and Past Detachment Commander John B. Rogers of Kings County received the Meritorious Service Award for Sandy relief.
-- Recruiter of the Year Neville Messinger of Herman Kent Post 777 in Jamestown.
-- Several top Americanism awards were presented to posts for outstanding programs, including a National Certificate of Distinguished Service to Irondequoit Post 134, and New York Distinguished Service Citations to Cottreall-Warner Post 942 in Webster, Colon-Couch Post 821 in Clayton, East Rockaway Post 958, and William A. Leonard Post 422 in Flushing.