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Speakers honor veterans in monument rededication

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Taps, a military bugle call played at dusk and funerals, rang out over Public Square on Saturday afternoon toward the end of a ceremony rededicating the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

The well-attended Armed Forces Day parade had concluded, and the crowds that had lined Washington Street for the annual march had mostly dispersed, leaving only about two dozen people who gathered on the grass facing the monument.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham; Richard A. Bierman, commander of the Walter H. French Camp 17 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War; and Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, spoke in the intimate space in front of the small crowd.

A rush of traffic circled them, making it hard to hear the speakers at times, though they gamely competed with the din of car engines and stereos.

“We’re here today to honor veterans and the military,” Mr. Graham said.

Gen. Townsend, who spoke of similar statues he had seen in his Georgia hometown that had sometimes caused him to reflect on the solemnity of service, said, “I’m proud to be a part of drawing attention to this statue. It’s a great honor, pleasure and privilege to be here with you today.”

“There can be no doubt that the honor you pay to the patriotic dead, and to their memorable deeds, will serve not only to make American citizenship in these days more reputable, but also to maintain and perpetuate, through all future generations, the union and authority of the United States of America,” Mr. Bierman said, reading from a script modeled on the original dedication in 1891.

It was an altogether different scene that year, when “Public Square and all the neighboring thoroughfares are thronged, and while the ceremonies were taking place it was almost impossible to get in or out of the Square.”

Those words are from a story about the original unveiling in the Watertown Re-Union on June 10, 1891.

That story made prominent mention of Mr. and Mrs. George Cook, who donated $10,000 to the city in 1889 to build the monument. A fundraising campaign conducted at the time also contributed to the effort. Sculptor Henry Augustus Lukeman and architect Edward Pearce Casey designed the monument.

More than a century later, it was restored last fall at a cost of $98,000. Most of the money, about $75,000, came from a grant from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The rest came from a matching grant provided by the city.

On Saturday, toward the end of the ceremony, camp chaplain Jeffrey I. French offered a rededication prayer.

“And now, Oh God, bless Thou this memorial. Bless it. Oh God, in honor of the mother who bade their sons do brave deeds; in honor of wives who wept for husbands who shall never come back again; in honor of children whose heritage is their fallen father’s heroic name; in honor of men and women who ministered to the hurt and dying.

“But chiefly, oh God, in honor of men who counted their lives not dear when their country needed them ...” Mr. French said, reading from a script.

Then came a 21-gun salute from Thomas R. Davis, George H. LaFex and Denny L. Lajuett of the Marine Corps League and Taps from bugler and Navy veteran George L. Marlette, and the monument was assigned back to the city of Watertown’s residents.

Away from the ceremony, Siri, the “intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator” on Apple’s iPhone, could be heard blaring from a young driver’s open Jeep Wrangler.

“Walmart is the second closest,” she said inexplicably.



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