Queens officials paid an early tribute to the nation’s war dead on Tuesday with a Memorial Day ceremony in Borough Hall.
More than 60 people, many of them former or active duty members of the armed forces, crowded into a second-floor room when threatening weather made the regular annual outdoor ceremony impractical.
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Neil Murphy Jr., who has served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, was the keynote speaker. The colors were presented by the Francis Lewis High School ROTC Honor Guard.
And the invocation was given by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, a chaplain with the FDNY.
“I am the child of Holocaust survivors,” Potasnik said. “My parents lost five children. I was taught to have high regard for those who serve their country. We want to let them know we don’t forget you.”
Col. Murphy said he had just returned from Afghanistan a few weeks ago to take his current post as director of Marine Corps Public Affairs in New York City when he received the invitation from Borough President Helen Marshall’s office to speak at Tuesday’s event.
“I’m always proud to talk about the Marines and this awesome country,” he said.
Murphy spoke of two long-time friends from the Corps who were killed in action.
“They were made from stone,” he said. “You never thought it would happen to them. Now they’re gone, and their families are carrying on without them.”
He also spoke of a Marine sergeant named Wade Wilson, who was 22 when he died in Afghanistan last week, and whose family will never again be able to spend Memorial Day quite the same way as most.
“He was from a town in Texas,” Murphy said. “He played football and ran track. He joined the Marines in 2007.”
He quoted John Stuart Mill, chiding those who, even while well-meaning, question the need for the military to ever engage in war.
“A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing he cares about more than his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself,” he read.
Murphy said there is nothing wrong with people enjoying the day off on Monday, or gathering with family and friends for a cookout. But he takes issue when the day is spent just sitting at home, watching sports and with the now ubiquitous department store white sales seemingly put on with no other thought or context.
“Remember why we have Memorial Day,” he said.