County honors soldiers’ and citizens’ sacrifices

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

General Ray Shields, Commander of the New York Army National Guard, said “There’s a lot of people that don’t realize what citizen soldiers do.”

ALBANY COUNTY — On Monday, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, himself a member of the New York Army National Guard, combined the solemnity of Memorial Day with a sober call for residents to continue to “do the right thing” in heeding protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

This year, McCoy said, was “very different than the Memorial Days we’ve celebrated in the past to honor the men and women that have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country, defending our freedoms.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo last Thursday had issued an executive order allowing up to 10 people to gather for Memorial Day commemorations and for religious services but then, facing a legal challenge by the New York Civil Liberties Union, Cuomo issued another order on Friday night, May 22, allowing gatherings of up to 10 people “for any lawful purpose” anywhere in the state.

Memorial Day ceremonies were held locally in Altamont and Knox. (See related coverage.)

McCoy said at his Friday press briefing that fewer than 1 percent of United States citizens serve in the military and that 2,852,901 “have died for this country, defending our rights.”

General Ray Shields, the 54th Adjutant General for the State of New York and Commander of the New York Army National Guard along with Command Sergeant Major John Willsey, who oversees the Yellow Ribbon program, joined McCoy at the briefing.

“Today, May 25, 2020, there’s only a handful of people to pay tribute to our fallen members,” said Shields. 

He said, despite the fact that COVID-19 restrictions prevent anything but small gatherings, “We cannot forget … what Memorial Day stands for. Since 1868, the United States has honored our fallen military members, first known as Decoration Day and now as Memorial Day.”

Shields went on, “There’ll be no parades … no gatherings at cemeteries, no big picnics, no concerts, and amusement parks and campgrounds remain closed across the state … However, what does continue is our sense of duty and mission accomplished.”

Shields said that over 3,500 men and women from the New York National Guard and the New York State Defense Forces are “helping with the COVID response and helping the governor as he works to reopen New York.”

During the pandemic, Guard duties have ranged from 300 service members helping to retrieve bodies from homes in New York City to members in Albany County distributing food to those who need it and helping at testing sites.

Sheilds also noted that this year is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and that many in the Guard “made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“While we don’t have any new combat losses this year,” Shields said, “we do remember the 39 combat losses since September 11.”

He concluded, “There’s a lot of people that don’t realize what citizen soldiers do.”

“Today’s intended purpose … is to decorate the graves of the fallen, a tradition that has gone on since its beginnings after the Civil War,” said Willsey of Memorial Day. “We have drifted from that sacred tradition and morphed into a day off and a picnic. Those serving don’t always have that opportunity.”

He went on, “We should be recognizing the sacrifices not only of the fallen but their families. They have the harder fight.”

Willsey said he had visited the century-old gravesite in France of American soldiers who had died there during World War I, which was perfectly preserved.

“We must never forget our fallen from the times of war, the terrorism of 9/11, or the current pandemic,” he said. “We must always remember those who have sacrificed and passed before us. Each death, no matter the way or reason, should be commemorated. Today is that day.”


The continuing count

McCoy opened his briefing, as always, with the latest county tallies on the coronavirus. For the first time in over 70 days, he did not hold a briefing on Saturday, so the numbers reflect a two-day count.

Albany County now has 1,640 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Albany County, an increase of 6 over the last 24 hours and 15 since Saturday. Nine-hundred county residents are under mandatory quarantine and five are under precautionary quarantine.

So far, 4,261 residents have completed quarantine, with 1,159 of them having tested positive and recovered. That brings the county’s recovery rate to 70.6 percent.

No COVID-19 deaths have occurred since Thursday morning’s briefing so the county’s coronavirus-disease death toll remains at 76.

Twenty-eight county residents are hospitalized with COVID-19 with two in intensive-care units. The hospitalization rate for Albany County stands at 1.7 percent.

The five-day average for people testing positive for COVID-19 is 17.6 per day.

McCoy attributed the decline, despite aggressive testing, in the numbers of positive results to the public following protocols.

He noted the sacrifices — including his daughter’s who had originally planned a wedding ceremony for Sunday but had to settle for a drive-by of well wishers to keep her spirits up.

McCoy repeated his caution that what residents do today will show up in county tallies in two weeks.

More Regional News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.