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Residents honor those who served their country

(from Tompkins Weekly)

Groton American Legion Post 800 veterans conduct a Memorial Day ceremony at the Bird Cemetery to remember and honor those who served in the armed forces and are laid to rest there. This was one of 12 ceremonies conducted that day.


Posted Wednesday, May 27, 2020 1:00 am

Groton on the Inside

By Linda Competillo

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the members of the Groton American Legion Post 800 were unable to hold their Memorial Day tradition of gathering at the post on Main Street to have lunch together, but it did not stop them from remaining faithful to the real reason they join together on this holiday every year.

For decades, it has been an honored tradition for the Groton Legionnaires to remember and honor their departed comrades who are interred in 12 different cemeteries in and around the town of Groton by visiting each one on both Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, performing ceremonies, praying a corporate prayer and conducting a 21-gun salute.

Undaunted by their limitations this year, a contingent of 11 soldiers, accompanied by Betty Conger, who plays “Taps” on an electronic bugle at the conclusion of each of those 12 ceremonies, spent their Monday morning making their rounds to each one to ensure that this very important tradition was not lost.

Conger, who is a 1960 Groton High School graduate, has lived in Groton all her life. She has been a member of the Groton Legion Auxiliary for the past 43 years, with involvement at district and state levels.

Conger’s connections to the Legion run deep, as her late husband, Bud Conger, served in the U.S. Air Force for six years. Her brother, Frederick Tompkins, served in the U.S. Army, was a veteran of the Vietnam War and earned a purple heart and a bronze star. She noted that both Bud and Frederick are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where she plans to join them “when that day comes.”

“Memorial Day to me is an opportunity to honor those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for us,” Conger said. “Thanks to them, we can live a life that is whatever we make it to be.”

Conger noted that this year is different in so many ways because of the pandemic but said they still planned to “do our best to honor the people who made that ultimate sacrifice. God bless America.”

Barb Exton of Groton was present at the ceremony at the Bird Cemetery. Her late husband, Dick Exton, has been buried there since 2004, and Barb was determined she would not miss being at the ceremony this year.

Dick was born and raised in West Groton, where Barb said, “he didn’t even have electricity until he was 14.” Dick was a 1943 Groton alumnus and headed off to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps that same year.   

Dick was a lifetime member of the Groton Legion and served in the South Pacific, most notably in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Barb recalled him telling the story of lying in a foxhole when he looked up to see the American flag being raised, signaling the battle was over and being overjoyed at the sight of it.

When Dick finished his tour of duty in 1946, he was a corporal. He had been unable to finish his schooling at Groton before leaving to serve his country. He was awarded a “war service diploma” and then obtained his teaching degree at Syracuse University on the GI Bill, for which he was very grateful.

I thought it was important to add a perspective on Memorial Day from a former soldier who is still living, so I called upon another Groton alumnus who also served in the Marine Corps, Cliff Ostrander.

Ostrander was born and raised in Groton, graduated from GHS in 1996 and headed off to serve his country immediately thereafter. He finished his tour of duty as a sergeant in September 2002.

Some may remember Ostrander as a three-sport athlete in cross-country, wrestling and track at GHS. He set a record time of nine minutes, 48 seconds in steeplechase while on the track team, a record that remains unbroken to this day.

Ostrander met his wife, Sara, at Groton Assembly of God church, purely by accident, as he was supposed to meet his cousin at another church but ended up by mistake at Groton Assembly of God.

Cliff and Sara have now been married for 16 years and are raising their daughter, Brooke, and son, William, right here in Groton.    

After the Marine Corps, Cliff worked in construction for many years and today owns his own business, Rednartso Remodeling Inc., doing custom home remodeling and renovations.

While he was working in construction, Cliff was also the youth leader/pastor at Groton Assembly of God for 11 years and has been the youth and discipleship pastor at First Assembly of God in Ithaca for the past two years.

“Being a Marine has defined me in two ways,” he said. “First, how I view myself. I grew as I went through boot camp and matured as a leader, which has lasted to this day. Secondly, how people view me because of what the Marine Corps ingrained in me since boot camp, things like integrity, discipline and honor – characteristics that people trust.”

Memorial Day is a day to remember those who had their lives taken from them in the name of freedom, Cliff said.

“Even though they did not know me, they fought for me and died with the uncertainty of whether their death would make a difference, but I’m here to say, yes, your life made a difference,” he said.

Cliff offered some final words on the significance of this holiday to him and many others.

“Thank you for dreaming bigger dreams,” he said. “Thank you for giving more than most are willing to give. Thank you for hoping for a life of freedom that you never got to enjoy. I am thankful that even though I served, I am still here to enjoy this freedom. I am here to love my wife and kids, and I’m thankful to be here to honor those who served with their whole life. So, Memorial Day is more than a day off; it is saying ‘Thank you and I honor you’ to those who will never hear these words.”

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, lmc10@cornell.edu or 607-227-4922.