On Friday, Borough President Melinda Katz paid tribute to all of the borough’s veterans, with three in particular were recognized at her annual Veteran’s Day Ceremony last week.
“I am well aware of the fact that I am able to put my eight-year-old and 11-year-old to bed every single night in the safety of the U.S. because of the men and women in this room who fought for our country,” said Katz, her first public appearance since making history as the first woman elected as Queens district attorney.
The ceremony began with a presentation of the colors by the JROTC Color Guard from Francis Lewis High School. Joanna Connolly sang the national anthem, and the invocation was delivered by Rabbi Yossi Mendelson from Machane Chodosh.
First to be honored was Staff Sergeant Raymond Ramos, an Army National Guard veteran of Operation Noble Eagle in Bosnia and Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq.
Ramos served for 22 years, and received a NATO Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation. He worked at the Department of Transportation for 10 years before spending the last 20 years with the NYPD.
“To the young people that are here, I hope you take away a bit of our history and the sacrifices that many of us who sit here before you have made,” said Ramos, who is also founder and CEO of Project Hype, an after-school mentorship program. “And lastly, to those men and women who pay the ultimate sacrifice without complaint and put mission first, as the bravest people in these United States, you are the shoulders we stand on. I salute you.”
Sergeant James W. Sessoms, Jr. is a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War. His accolades include a Navy Unit Citation, a Combat Action Ribbon and a Good Conduct Medal.
Upon discharge, Sessoms served his peers as a member of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 92. He eventually returned to school, obtaining a degree as a paralegal, and currently works to assist veterans as a judge advocate.
Last to be celebrated was Sergeant First Class Loretta Z. Weiss, who celebrated her 100th birthday in June.
Weiss served 27 years in the U.S. Army as a supply and physical training sergeant in WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War.
Weiss earned an Army Occupation Medal in Germany, a Good Conduct Medal as a silver clasp with three loops and A Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps Service Ribbon, among a myriad of other distinctions.
She has been an advocate for veterans’ causes as a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Jewish War Veterans.
“You are active in so many organizations making a difference and making life better for people in the borough of Queens,” said Councilman Eric Urlich. “We honor your service, your sacrifice, your commitment and your dedication to your families, to your communities, and to your country.”
The focus of the morning was not only to celebrate the courage of those who served, but also to spotlight issues that continue to plague veterans as they attempt to integrate back into civilian life.
Issues like unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse and mental health.
“I’m of the opinion that every day is Veterans Day,” said State Senator Joe Addabbo. “It’s not just one day of the year, it’s every day that we are thankful for the freedoms and rights that we have and sometimes take for granted.”
The senator spoke of an additional $4 million included in this year’s state budget to expand the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project to the five boroughs. Originated in Suffolk County, the peer-to-peer guidance program is a valuable tool for veterans dealing with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
Councilman Donovan Richards announced that 200 units of veteran housing will be built in Rockaway.
“All of us who served, we had a mission, and when we came out we wandered around wondering what we were supposed to do,” said Joaquin Gonzalez, a U.S. Army veteran of the Gulf War and current benefit advisor to the State Division of Veterans’ Services.
Gonzalez works with young veterans at the St. Albans VA Medical Center, and he delivered a jarring firsthand account of the struggles 21st Century veterans face trying to rediscover a purpose in civilian life.
“Ignorance is the worst enemy of the veteran,” Gonzalez concluded. “Not knowing what you’re eligible for and not having people in your corner.”
At the end of the ceremony, attendees were given the chance to pay tribute to veterans in their lives who have fallen both on and off the battlefield, calling the names of their loved ones one-by-one.
This year, Veterans Day coincides with the 100th anniversary of the first observed Armistice Day, which commemorates the agreement that ended World War I.