Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony: Reflection on service and sacrifice

Members of the SUNY New Paltz community joined together after a long holiday weekend to remember those who have given their lives in service to the United States and its ideals, at a Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony hosted by the Office of Veteran & Military Services on Tuesday, May 28.

“Today we pay homage to the one million-plus American service members who have given the ultimate sacrifice for this great nation since the American Revolutionary War began in 1775,” said Jason Gilliland, coordinator of veteran & military services.

The Memorial Day program, held on campus for a fifth consecutive year, includes the ceremonial laying of a wreath, musical performances and keynote remarks on the meaning of this national day of commemoration.

This year’s keynote was given by Dietrich Orris ’19 (Adolescence Education), a graduating member of New Paltz’s Class of 2019 and a retired U.S. Army Reserve sergeant, whose 20 years of service included two combat tours in Iraq and involvement in multiple hostile engagements.

“Recently I was asked what Memorial Day meant to me. I thought that would be easy to answer, until I truly contemplated the subject,” he said.

Orris described a personal journey to locate the meaning of this holiday, naming individuals he has known or served alongside who lost their lives in the course of their duty, and offering a reminder of the many unnamed veterans who return home and struggle to integrate into a society that cannot fully comprehend their experiences.

“To me, Memorial Day isn’t about shaming civilians into feeling sorry, or about perpetual mourning,” Orris said. “It’s a celebration of the ultimate commitment to one’s country and values. It’s a celebration of life, accomplishments and legacies of our honored fallen. It’s about positive memories that keep those no longer with us alive in spirit, while also giving hope to those still fighting their own personal demons.”

2019 Memorial Day Keynote Speaker Dietrich Orris ’19 (right), with President Donald P. Christian. “How you choose to remember is completely up to you, and there are many ways you can do so,” Orris said. “Most of all, just be happy and live free, because that’s what they would have wanted. That’s why they laid their lives on the line in the first place.”

Trumpeter and Adjunct Professor of Music Rebecca Coupe Franks provided a rendition of “Taps” during the wreath laying, and performances of “God Bless America” and Amazing Grace” were given by William Hennessey, Sojourner Truth Library clerk and retired United States Army and Marine Corps master sergeant, with accompaniment on drums by Duke Bunce of the New Paltz Police Department.

This year’s wreath laying took place in the Student Union due to rain, with the wreath later moved outside to its place beneath the American flag in front of the Haggerty Administration Building.

Visit the Office of Veteran & Military Services online to learn more about practical support and community-building services available to the nearly 400 military-affiliated students at SUNY New Paltz.