On the day to remember its fallen, Brightonian Slagana Avramoska Mitris reflects on what Memorial Day means to her.

On the day to remember its fallen, Brightonian Slagana Avramoska Mitris reflects on what Memorial Day means to her.

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 snowfall

May 9, 2020, Brighton Town Hall. Slagana Avramoska Mitris [Photos: David Kramer]. Slagana is next to the Heller Keller plaque in the Carol Heininger Wahl Memorial Children’s Literary Garden. The plaques reads: The best and most beautiful things in the worlds [sic] cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. — Helen Keller. See A ribbon cutting and the Pages of the Brighton Memorial Library

A 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.

May 2020, photo: David Kramer

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.

Brighton Town Hall, 5/23/20. David Kramer and Slagana Avramoska Mitris at the bench honoring Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli.

Plaque honoring Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli.

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 Bellavia and Slagana Avramoska Mitris (left) October 25th, 2019 at an event in Buffalo where Bellavia received the NYS GOP Nick Langworthy Award. Slagana holds his Medal of Honor. (right) July 23rd 2019 in Batavia where Bellavia was given the key to the city. Slagana again holds the Medal. [Photos provided by Slagana Avramoska Mitris]

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.

5/23/30. (center and right) Slagana Avramoska Mitris at the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery on Lake Avenue. [right photo: Slagana, left photos: David Kramer]

5/23/30. Slagana Avramoska Mitris and David Kramer at the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery on Lake Avenue.

Cannon donated by the American Legion’s Brighton Post 1064 outside the Brighton Town Hall. (top left) Slagana Avramoska Mitris holding Israel Defense Forces medallion (Artillery Corps/IDF Ground Forces) she received from an Israeli soldier at the Christians United for Israel convention in Washington, D.C. Awarded for unconditional and unsuppressed support and advocacy for Israel; (top right) American icons: American Justice (Brighton Town Court Judge Karen Morris), the American People (l-r, Betsy Knapp, Ellie Heider, Saffron Howe, Sadie Scott, Anna Campbell), the American Flag, the American Military. American iconography is complicated. From Iconic America at the Brighton Little League Parade  4/31/16; (bottom) The caption reads: That Those Who Perished Shall Not Have Died in Vain From After Parkland, discovering fallen Brightonians from World War Two 3/24/18,

Today, many gathered in Highland Park to remember the fallen and to break ground for the Highland Park South: War on Terror Memorial.

Memorial Day, 2020. Monroe County Executive Adam Bello (speaking) and NYS Senator Joseph Robach break ground for the Highland Park South: War on Terror Memorial [Photos: David Kramer]. See “Motivated by the Audacity:” Remembering 9/11 at Monroe Community College

Former Monroe County Supervisor Cheryl Dinolfo and David Kramer. [left photo, David Kramer; center photo, Rita Hasenhauer, Gold  Star Family member] Right, Cheryl and David at the 20th anniversary ceremony for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester in Highland Park, September 2016 [Photo: Dinolfo staff member] from  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester: A Meditation on the Cost of War

Conceptual rendering of the Highland Park South: War on Terror Memorial.

IRAQ WAR 

Eric A. Smith 

Inscription on the bench honoring Army Chief Warrant Officer Eric A. Smith

 

Michael J. Pernaselli

Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli, a 27-year-old boatswain’s mate from suburban Rochester, N.Y., is shown in an undated photo. Pernaselli was killed in a suicide boat attack at an Iraqi oil terminal on April 24, 2004. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy).

From TheFallen.militarytimes

“Firebolt Crew Members Honored 15 Years After Tragic 2004 Suicide Bombing,” Quartermaster Seaman John M. McHugh Jr. and a Coast Guardsman place a wreath during the annual Firebolt Memorial ceremony to honor Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli, Signalman 2nd Class Christopher E. Watts and Coast Guardsman Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal who died while conducting maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf on April 24, 2004 aboard the USS Firebolt (PC 10). (U.S. Navy/Dawson Roth) (Military.com)

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.

Brighton Cemetery, Edward Bowman [Photo: David Kramer 5/20/20]

Brighton Cemetery, [Photo: David Kramer 5/20/20]

Brighton Cemetery, Isaac Tierson [Photo: David Kramer 5/20/20]

Mt. Hope Cemetery. James Henry Walter Ewart. [Photo: David Kramer, 5/22/20]

Interred in Mt. Hope Cemetery, 9/12/21. Cause of death, Not Given. Section R-8, Plot 19, [Mt. Hope & Riverside Cemetery Records, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester]

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.

(left) Edward R. Crone Jr., Brighton High School Crossroads yearbook, 1941. Held at and scanned courtesy of Brighton Memorial Library; (center) Crone’s gravesite in Mt. Hope Cemetery, [Photo: David Kramer, 12/15/18]; (right) findagrave.com  From Kurt Vonnegut’s 1995 “Billy Pilgrim” pilgrimage to the Mt. Hope grave of Edward R. Crone Jr, Brighton High School ‘ 41

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.

(l-r) Paul A. Beamon; Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Cemetery Churchville, New York;  Robert F. Behnke. Crossroads yearbook, BHS 1941; Woodlawn National Cemetery Elmira, Chemung County, New York. From After Parkland, discovering fallen Brightonians from World War Two

Monroe Erle Billings. Fairview Cemetery Canton, St. Lawrence County, New York; Ross C. Danford, Crossroads yearbook, 1941; Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial Margraten, Eijsden-Margraten Municipality, Limburg, Netherlands. From After Parkland, discovering fallen Brightonians from World War Two

Leo Gertin. Holy Sepulchre Cemetery Rochester, New York; the Wilson Commons, University of Rochester. Lee H. Streeter is sixth from the bottom on the third column; Paul C. Zaenglein, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. From After Parkland, discovering fallen Brightonians from World War Two

Paul C. Zaenglein, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. Zaenglein was killed one week before the surrender of Japan. [Photo: David Kramer] From After Parkland, discovering fallen Brightonians from World War Two

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 Summaries

Brighton High School graduates killed in Vietnam. Bollards on The Walk on Honor at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park. [Photo: David Kramer, 11/09/18] From Veterans Day in Brighton

[l-r) Bollard # 22 Gary D. Hopps, #68 Robert Waldron Forbush Jr.  #238 John P. Lambooy Jr.,  # 252 Edward Clark Caldwell III. See Veterans Day in Brighton

SEE ALSO 

Honor Park: 101 years of honoring our area’s veterans

On the Memorial Day Parade and The Army of the Republic of Viet Nam

Remembrance and Hope on the Genesee, Memorial Day, 2017

Remembering the fallen of the RCSD from America’s past wars

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY and Lake Affect Magazine.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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