Service and selflessness. Duty and honor. And most important of all, gratitude.

That was the message keynote speaker Stephen Dmetruk, a 1966 Mohawk graduate and 1971 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, shared with the students during the 21st annual Mohawk Veterans Day program held Thursday at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.  

Dmetruk acknowledged the veterans from World War II to the Persian Gulf wars who turned out for the event, which was hosted by the Mohawk Future Business Leaders of America and Scottish Rite Cathedral Foundation. 

He mentioned the Greatest Generation, the veterans of World War II, “who left your family and jobs, fought for your country and came home to build that country.”

He honored the Korean War veterans who fought to stem the spread of communism, as well as the Vietnam veterans who served at an unpopular time and who came back to “an ungrateful nation.”

And he also honored those who have served in the Persian Gulf, whom he said fought a different kind of war, with new stresses like improvised exploding devices and terrorism.

All, he said, are heroes. And all, he added, made a difference. 

“We salute you,” he said. “We salute America’s finest who put themselves in harm’s way, fought to protect our country and our truly unique American way of life.”

Dmetruk also praised the military code by which those who serve live — leadership, respect, selfless service, honor, courage, commitment, teamwork, devotion to duty, placing all others before self and doing what is right, whether anyone sees or not.

And he thanked the members of the Honor Guard, who make sure that every veteran lost is put to rest with the dignity and honor he or she deserves.

Dmetruk served as a supply officer on the USS Rogers in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. Following his naval career, he worked in sales, telecommunications and consulting. He retired in 2006 and lives in St. Simons Island, Ga.

He said the students can honor the veterans they come across in their community very simply.

“If you see a veteran, thank the veteran for his or her service. It will mean more than you know.”

Dmetruk and his wife, Suzy, serve as veterans’ guardians for Honor Flights, a non-profit organization that transports U.S. military veterans to see the nation’s war memorials, specifically the ones honoring the battles in which they fought. On one occasion, he said, they encountered a Vietnam War veteran, waiting for his ride.

“He had just been approached by someone who thanked him for his service. With tears in his eyes, he said, ‘I needed that. I have finally been welcomed home from the war.’ Thank them,” Dmetruk said. “Welcome them home.”

James McKim, president of the Mohawk Area School Board and representing the Cathedral Foundation, welcomed guests noting, “The best way to honor a veteran is to stand tall and proud and act like a deserving American.” 

The FBLA members and their advisors, Joe DiMuccio, Kathy Eichenlaub and Marsha Karidis, McKim said, worked on the program, which was for students in grades 7-12, for months.

Superintendent Dr. Michael Leitera said he was “blown away” by some of the musical selections.

FBLA president Jenna Pharr in her opening remarks noted the history of Armistice Day, first proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson  on Nov. 11, 1919, one year after the end of World War I. It became a legal holiday in 1926 and was renamed Veteran’s Day in 1958 to recognize all who fought in all wars.

“No matter which branch of the service is entered, entering the military is a brave act since you don’t know if you will be returning home,” she said. “We owe gratitude to those who served, stepped into harm’s way and now must keep our promise to those who went to war and give them the recognition they deserve.”

“We owe veterans a debt that can never be fully paid,” FBLS treasurer Valerie Carbone. “Everything they did was a sacrifice.”

Be they on the battlefield or behind the scenes, she said, veterans show honor, bravery and patriotism. “They protect our freedom and liberty so we can continue to live and prosper.”

Musical selections, with Justin Addicott directing the Junior-Senior Chorus and Jason Zeh directing the Senior High band, included a vocal rendering of “Stars and Stripes Forever” by the a cappella Mohawk Bella Vocci Choir; “Tell My Father,” by Mohawk’s Men’s Choir; “God of Our Fathers,” by the combined band and choir; and the “Travelin’ Soldier,” by Mya Monaco. “God Bless America” was performed by the Northview Estate Prime Time Chimers and Rhodes Estates Hum Dingers.

American Legion Post 343l presented a Missing in Action and Prisoner of War flag to high school principal Brad Meehan, asking the school to fly the flags as a reminder that not everyone who went to war returned.

The invocation was by Navy veteran the Rev. Gary Arnold, and the benediction was by the Rev. David Champ of Westfield Presbyterian Church.

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