Memorial Day fast approaching in Waterloo

Some of the toughest jobs in the military are filled by people who don’t wear uniforms, salute or march. The families who wait at home play an important part in providing support and comfort to the men and women in the military.

This year the Celebrate Commemorate Freedom Parade will honor Blue Star Mothers, the women who kept the home fires burning during the country’s various wars. Members of the Blue Star Mothers from Canandaigua will ride on the honor float. The 17th annual parade will march down Main Street promptly at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 27.

Parade Chair Sarah Smolinski is coordinating the scores of military groups, re-enactors, students, organizations, businesses and fire departments who come to the Birthplace of Memorial Day to pay tribute to those who earned our freedom.

“The Freedom Parade is always a highlight of our annual celebration and commemoration. It is an honor to organize the parade,” said Smolinski, who stepped up to take over the task after the team of Doris Wolf and Kaaren Gerlach retired last year.

And in a special exhibit, Waterloo’s own Blue Star flag will be on display at the National Memorial Day Museum on East Main Street. Oh, what stories that old banner could tell!

The red, white and blue 47-inch by 70-inch wool and cotton Service Flag was for several years on display at the First Presbyterian Church in Waterloo, honoring the 33 men from the church who answered their country’s call to serve in World War I.

Service Flags are displayed in the windows of family members of service men and by organizations to honor members’ service in the Armed Forces. It is an official banner authorized by the Department of Defense. Also known as Blue Star Banners, the Service Flag was designed and patented by a WWI Army Captain who had two sons serving on the front line.

Each service man is represented by a blue star on the flag’s white center panel. When a service member has died or been killed, the blue star is covered with a gold star. The blue star represents hope and pride, the gold star represents sacrifice in the cause of liberty and freedom.

Two of the stars on the First Presbyterian Church’s Service Flag are covered with gold paper, signifying the deaths of Ralph Betts in Syracuse on October 11, 1918 and Harold Bachman in Buffalo on November 16 that same year.

Bill Holmes of the Waterloo Library and Historical Society said the Service Flag was officially lowered from its place of honor in the church on March 28, 1920. The program for the service, conducted by Rev. David L. Roberts, lists the names of the men honored by the stars on the service flag, names still common in Waterloo – Clark, Hall, Damon, Marshall, Reid, White, Christopher, Andrews, Carleton, Mauer, Huff, Sweet, Velte, Hatch, Reeder, Schaffer, Yost, Menzer, Shaffer, Geise, VanRiper, Judd, Zelner, Cook, Eshenour, Boak, Tarr.

The program says the flag was presented to Judge George F. Bodine, who accepted it for the Board of Trustees.

Holmes found the flag on Ebay in 2012 while searching for Waterloo-related items,, a hobby of his. Holmes told his friend, Bill Sigrist , then president of the Waterloo Historical Society, about his find.

“We knew we had to bring it back to Waterloo, whatever the cost,” Holmes said.

The pair successfully bid on the item, which arrived from Florida in a dusty old plastic bag from Florida, Bodine’s son. Peter, and his family moved to Florida in 1981, and may have taken the flag with them.

Holmes and Sigrist donated the banner to the Waterloo Library and Historical Society. The Historical Society hopes to obtain a grant to preserve the flag so it can permanently be displayed at the National Memorial Day Museum for all to see.

Celebrate Commemorate events will be May 26-28 and 30. To learn more about Celebrate Commemorate and the 151st annual observance of Memorial Day, go to http://waterloony.com/memorial-day/celebrate-commemorate/

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