Old Glory, New Tributes
We were at an outdoor celebration recently, watching from the adult beverages tent, when a beefy gentleman in T-shirt and kilt caught my eye. I had watched this United States Armed Forces veteran compete and fail, just before the last rounds of a game. Peering over the heads of the crowd, we had seen him stagger. We groaned our disappointment with the rest of our cheerfully imbibing neighbors. As he walked from the area, we saw why the man had staggered. Below his T-shirt and kilt, the veteran had no legs, only blades. Neither of us could see his prosthetics or his disability; the vet had competed to the ending rounds.
Corning’s Gaffer District, partnered this year with Chemung Canal Trust Company, celebrates its eighth annual GlassFest this Memorial Day Weekend, from May 25 to 28. It is billed as a “Celebration of Glass and the Fire Arts in America’s Crystal City.” And that it is: after closing the streets for the weekend, the event kicks off with a free public party at the Corning Museum of Glass with glass making, a glass ribbon cutting ceremony, music, food, and drink. The weekend continues with live hot glass demonstrations from the Corning Museum of Glass, WineGlass GlassFest 8K, Brews and Blues BBQ, MasterPix scavenger hunt with prizes, wine and craft beer tasting, family activities like face-painting, artist displays, and exhibits both judged and non-judged, sidewalk sales, reworks on Saturday night, shopping, and the Rock the Park Concert series, among other activities too numerous to count.
But at the heart of it all is the weekend itself, and the honor we owe those who make such days of freedom possible.
The GlassFest Memorial Day Salute will begin at 2:30 p.m. in Riverfront Centennial Park on Sunday, May 28. This year, GlassFest adds another activity to the weekend, incorporating a Field of Honor onto Riverfront Centennial Park, where up to 270 flags will be placed in tribute to veterans. Individuals can buy a flag for themselves or a veteran for $35, with the proceeds going to the C-VETS (Corning Veterans Engaged to Support). The flags will fly from Friday, May 26, and will be taken back down between 5 and 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 28 (by civic organizations conforming to flag etiquette; old, worn flags can also be dropped off for proper disposal).
At the Field of Honor, the Veterans of Foreign Wars will conduct the ceremony, a local firefighter will sing the National Anthem, DownBeat Percussion, better known as The Stampede (they are the drum line for the Buffalo Bills football team), will perform, and “Taps” will close the ceremony. Twelve Gold Star soldiers and their families will be honored (Gold Star families include a member who has died in service to our country), as well as over one hundred other families who will be remembered with Home Town Hero Banners, a tribute to a service person from any of the armed forces who has served in the military, living or dead. Each banner has a picture of the veteran, dates of life and death, dates of service and military branch—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard—and where they served.
As the child of a military man, I felt a pull to thank the blade-wearing veteran for his service. He accepted my hug and thanks with a wolfish smile and, as he pulled away said, “It was my honor.” Then it was my turn to stagger, fighting back tears in public.
I hope you will consider the GlassFest Memorial Day Celebration, or indeed any of the several Home Town Hero Banner presentations occurring in our area. Please consider bringing an extra hankie. I will be the one standing gratefully on my own two feet, remembering my own veteran father and the blade-wearing vet.