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Western New York celebrates its veterans

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Ceremonies were held throughout Western New York on Monday, marking Veterans Day. It was 100 years ago on November 11, one year after the signing of the Armistice to end World War I, that the United States first set aside a day to honor the veterans of "The Great War." WBFO visited one of the ceremonies held Monday, at Salvatore's Patriots and Heroes Park in Williamsville.

Veterans and families, local elected officials who have military experience and other honored guests endured a cold and snowy morning to stand within the Transit Road park space created by businessman Russell J. Salvatore. A wreath was laid at the Purple Heart monument, one of many displays honoring veterans, police, firefighters and first responders on the grounds.

The event's keynote speaker, Marine veteran John Wester, had a lengthy career that included stops in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke of how Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day in 1919, established to mark the anniversary of the formal end of World War I. In 1926, Congress passed a resolution to make it an annual occurrence. Then in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the holiday's name to Veterans Day to include recognition of veterans who later served in World War II and the Korean War.

Wester noted that in later generations, there have been fewer young people volunteering to step forward and enlist.

"You look at the fact now that of the 24 million youngsters ages 19 to 24 that are eligible for service, less than 10 percent of them qualify. And the recruiters can't even get enough people to sign up," Wester said. "Anyone who has become a veteran has earned a special place in our hearts because they stepped forward."

US military conscription ended in the mid-1970s. Some have argued that what fuels the might and success of the US armed forces is that its people have voluntarily come forward to serve.

But given the struggle to find new recruits, is it time to require young people to serve in the military for a brief period? Wester was asked the question of volunteer military versus required service.

"I feel both ways because now, we're having trouble reaching the people that need to serve," he answered. "It may come a day if another major war hits, that they're going to have to bring the draft back. I might add that Selective Service still requires all 18-year-olds to sign up, just in case."

Another key part of the ceremony was raising awareness for and encouraging donations to the men's and women's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder clinics hosted by the VA Western New York Healthcare System in Batavia.

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