A dream finally comes to fruition... thanks to all of you who supported this project..
Well Sir, yesterday, on July 29, 2008, after much work, many donations, both personal and corporate, and OUTSTANDING community and national support, The Gregory J Harris Military Courtesy Room at the Syracuse International Airport became a reality. To our knowledge, this is only one of two, privately funded Military Courtesy Rooms in the United States.
The Grand Opening ceremonies were attended by well over 200 great patriotic Americans from all over New York State, 4 area TV stations, The Syracuse Post Standard, and several smaller area news publications. This exceptional media attendance was due to the fine Public Relations efforts of Mary Ann Reitano, whose cousin, Marine Cpl. Gregory J Harris (POW/MIA-Vietnam-1966), the room is named after.
Representatives were present from all branches of the military. In that The 10th Mountain Division of The United States Army is a stone's throw up the road from from Syracuse, there were 50 Army men and women present. The United States Marine Corps Reserve Training Center in Mattydale, NY supplied a contingent of 10 Marines, and, not to be outdone by the Marines, The United States Navy sent 22 Officers and enlisted men (The Red Lancers) under the command of Lt. Commander Christopher Flaherty of The Naval Air Station, Brunswick, ME, who piloted a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft to the event. Lt. Commander Flaherty is originally from a small town situated here on Oneida Lake, Cleveland, NY which is about 20 miles north of Syracuse.
The New York ANG, 174th Fighter Wing (who's F-16's have seen action in Gulf War I and Iraq), supplied 10 Air National Guard personnel and our Multi-Force Color Guard, all under the Command of Lt. Colonel Maryjo Timpano.
The US Navy P-3 Orion arrives Syracuse prior to commencement of the ceremonies.
Children from the Cleveland, NY area ( hometown of Lt. Commander Christopher Flaherty) welcome the Commander.
Navy personnel from the P-3 disembark from their Security escort into the terminal.
Navy Seabee Veteran of America, Island X-19, Commander James Hilgers (left), and some ugly old Seabee.
The ANG Color Guard arrives.
Members of the United States Marine Corps Training Center, Mattydale,NY.
Folks begin arriving.
Aviation Commissioner Anthony Mancuso officially opens the ceremonies.
The Honorable Mayor of Syracuse, NY, Matthew J Driscoll issues The Veterans Recognition Day, July 29th, Proclamation for The Gregory J Harris Military Courtesy Room.
The media folks begin...
Command Sergeant Major Terry Parham, Ft. Drum, 10th Mountain Division speaks and issues Certificates of Appreciation to Loren Davies, Leroy Bowen, Mary Ann Reitano and myself.
Lt. Commander Flaherty begins "The Missing Man Table" Ceremony (more regarding this at the end of the post)
Mayor Matthew Driscoll is presented with a remembrance from the P-3 Orion crew (The Red Lancers).
"The Missing Man Table" ceremony in progress. Looking on is Leroy Bowen (extreme right) and Loren Davies (next to him), the two individuals who first had this dream and goal.
Lt. Colonel Maryjo Timpano of the 174th ANG Fighter Wing thanks everyone for their community support and efforts.
North Central Area Vice Commandant for the Marine Corps League, James Ransom issues statement.
Mary Ann Reitano (right) and her two daughters, Katie (on the right), and Maria (left), assist Mayor Driscoll in cutting the opening ribbon.
One of the 3 cakes we had for the Grand Opening.
Mayor Driscoll and James Ransom make the first cut of the cake.
OK ....Let's Eat!
James Ransom (left), Mayor Driscoll (Center), and Loren Davies (right).
Loren Davies (right), and that same ugly old Seabee again, after the ceremonies.
Sailors, doing a couple of the things they do best, eating and relaxing.
Now Sir, on a more serious note. The Courtesy Room has a "Wall of Honor", and presently, on that wall hang 2 pictures. One picture is of Cpl. Gregory J Harris, and the other photograph is of another hero, SPC Clint R. Gertson (below photo) who gave all for his beloved country. Clint was a United States Army sniper and was killed in Iraq on 2/19/05. Over the past several years I have had the honor to have gotten to know his parents, Gayle and Susan Gertson from Eagle Lake, Texas, and from what I've learned from them about Clint, he was a man I would have been very proud to know. Clint held a Bronze Star and 2 Purple Hearts and many other awards and ribbons. I am not a naive man, but it would be a blessing if these were the ONLY two photographs that I ever have to hang on that wall.
The below 2 photographs are of "The Missing Man Table"
This ceremony is done in very respectful steps by military personnel. The WHITE tablecloth is first set on the table, signifying the purity of purpose for having defended his country, and that Freedom isn't Free.
The candle is lit, acting as a light in the darkness to assist the missing man/woman to find their way home (watch-fire symbology).
The red rose symbolizes the blood spilt for his beloved country. The Yellow Ribbon represents what all Yellow Ribbons represent.
The bread plate with the sliced lemon represents the bitterness of the loss of this man.
The dinner plate has salt on it representing the salt from the tears that have been shed for this person.
The inverted wine glass states that this person will never again make a "toast" with us.
And finally, the chair leaned into the table is a seat that will never again be filled with his presence.
If any of you who have taken the time to read this would like to make a donation to The Gregory J Harris Military Courtesy Room, you can go to the link I have just provided, or, you may mail a check or money order (with designation in lower left corner of check or MO, "Airport Project" ) to:
The Marine Corps League
Emerald City Detachment
PO Box 393
Chittenango, NY 13037
I would like to personally thank all of you who have already helped us make this room a reality with your donations and support. Without you, this would not have been possible...THANK YOU EVER SO MUCH!
I would also like to thank my wife, Elaine and MCL Vice Commandant James Ransom for all the above photographs.
For more on this story and the national outpouring of support, go HERE.