May 9, 2020, Brighton Town Hall. Slagana Avramoska Mitris on the bench honoring Army Chief Warrant Officer Eric A. Smith [Photo: David Kramer] See Distributing masks in Brighton and revisiting (again) the Highland Crossing Trail in (another) May snowfallA few weeks ago at the mask distribution at the Brighton Town Hall, I met town resident and volunteer Slagana Avramoska Mitris. I learned that Slagana was born and raised in Macedonia in the former Yugoslavia. In 1992, Slagana met and married George Mitris, a Greek-American from Irondequoit who was visiting his grandfather in Macedonia. Slagana moved to Rochester where she became a citizen in 1996. The Mitris have 3 children, one attended the Hillel Day School in Brighton. The family are congregants at Beth Shalom on Monroe Avenue.
In many ways, Slagana’s story is one common to many immigrants. Much of Slagana’s public life is motivated by a desire to serve her adopted nation, to keep America secure and prosperous for her children and someday their children.
To serve the local Jewish community and by extension the whole community, Slagana serves on school committees for Jewish education, acts as ambassador for women’s philanthropy at the Rochester Jewish Federation and is a board member on the Israeli Resource Center. She is active in the local Republican Party, focusing on education, suicide prevention, the opioid crisis, veteran’s services and more. (George Mitris is the 2020 Republican/Conservative congressional candidate for the 25th district.)
Whether volunteering for the United Way or the Jewish Federation or helping distribute masks at the Brighton Town Hall, for Slagana, community service is never about one thing.
Today, Slagana offers her story of Memorial Day and its meaning. After Slagana’s narrative, we offer non-comprehensive images and accounts of Brightonians who have died in the service of their nation in World War I, World War II, Vietnam and Gulf War II.
I came to the United States in 1992 as Yugoslavia was starting to splinter into several smaller independent nations. During the 1990s, trouble was brewing; the Balkans were riven with sectarian and ethnic strife. From the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, as terror and violence intensified, NATO, including the United States, sent peace keeping forces to the region. Macedonia became a platform for military operations.
I was living in Rochester but my extended family were in Macedonia during these times. From a distance, I had to watch painfully as deadly violence swept over all Yugoslavia and the country further disintegrated into chaos.
While Macedonia did not endure the worst of the horrors, my male relatives were mobilized. While all-out fighting did not break out, the Macedonian army faced off against insurgents bent on terrorising the civilian populace. Women, including those in my family, were constantly pressured and questioned by the insurgents, where are your men? The women and children kept moving from place to place seeking safe refuge. For them living through it…for me following what was happening thousands of miles away…the anxiety and uncertainty was excruciating.
Distress and death clouded the country as well as the minds and the hearts of every person who was born there no matter where we were now. “My people:” they were all my people…they were dying…tortured…in fear and despair…every part of what used to be Yugoslavia was part of me…every life lost whether it was someone’s child…or God’s child … was part of my family and my heart. The sadness and despair was endless. Macedonia was utilized as an airway highway for war planes to cross over from Italy and the Adriatic Sea to bomb my people, relatives, cousins, country men in Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro…all over my country as I knew it.
From Rochester as I watched the United States deploy troops into my homeland, hope kindled. Slowly, but eventually, war-torn Yugoslavia became stabilized, although isolated sectarian and ethnic conflict continued until about 2006. As members of my family and their community began to feel safer, I felt relief. My worst fears were not realized.
Through this experience, I came to fully appreciate the American soldiers — our soldiers — who risked their lives so far from home, and for those who did not come home.
My feelings of gratitude intensified when I met David Bellavia at an Ontario County Republican Committee dinner where he was a keynote speaker as a Medal of Honor recipient for actions during the Second Battle of Fallujah. David enlisted in the United States Army in July 1999 and deployed to Iraq after serving in Kosovo, located next to Macedonia. As war was enveloping Yugoslavia, David was risking his life in service to our country. As I listened to David, I discovered the ideals and values that drove him to volunteer for multiple deployments.
David and the brave men and women like him are why Memorial Day is sacred to me. It is not just a day of remembrance. It is a living testimonial of the sacrifices of our fallen heroes, testimony to the blood they shed for the liberty of the living. It is because of those who sacrificed everything that we enjoy the fruits of liberty. It is because of them, that America is a beacon and a dream to all who yearn for liberty, anywhere in the world. The liberty we enjoy today, the freedom to dream for tomorrow — these are anchored in the roots of their sacrifice. As my husband says, without roots, we are a tumbleweed. But with these roots, we are free to dream; we can be mighty oaks.
My husband George often reminds me of the words of Abraham Lincoln: “A nation that does not honor its heroes, will not long endure.” This nation must endure. It is mankind’s last hope for liberty. For us, those who gave their lives so that we may live and dream are worthy of much more than honor, much more than remembrance once a year; they are worthy of reverence every day. But on this day, we all come together, collectively, as Americans, to acknowledge them, to honor them, to revere them, and to thank their blessed memory for the gift of liberty. God bless our fallen vets and all who serve. God bless America.
Today, many gathered in Highland Park to remember the fallen and to break ground for the Highland Park South: War on Terror Memorial.
Eric A. Smith
Michael J. Pernaselli
WORLD WAR I
In “Brighton Boys lost in World War I,” Historic Brighton. Vol 18 No 4 Fall 2017, Matthew Bashore provides a comprehensive and illuminating review of Brighton soldiers who died in World War I, including three who are buried in Rochester. Matt is Reference & Building Services Manager at the Brighton Memorial Library and President of Historic Brighton.See also Rochesterians in World War One and the One Hundredth Anniversary of Château-Thierry and When all was quiet on the western front on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918.
WORLD WAR TWO
The most well known Brighton High School graduate who died in the war is Edward R. Crone Jr. As seen in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1995 “Billy Pilgrim” pilgrimage to the Mt. Hope grave of Edward R. Crone Jr, Brighton High School ‘ 41, Crone was the model for Kurt Vonnegut’s character Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five.At his boyhood home site, Historic Brighton dedicates Marker to Edward Crone, Brighton War Hero and Famous Fictional Protagonist describes a historical marker dedicated to Crone in Brighton, October 2020. In After Parkland, discovering fallen Brightonians from World War Two, I was able to find information on seven other BHS men who perished in the war. VIETNAM
Four bollards on The Walk on Honor at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park are dedicated to Brighton High School graduates who died in the war: Edward Clark Caldwell III, Robert Waldron Forbush Jr., Gary D. Hopps and John P. Lambooy Jr. SEE The Remembered: Casualties SummariesSEE ALSO