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Faith Leaders Hold Vigil In Rock Tavern For Fallen Service Members

Area faith leaders held a vigil near Stewart Air National Guard Base in Orange County over the weekend in support of the families of 15 Marines and a Navy sailor killed in a plane crash in Mississippi one week ago.

(Name reading and bell) 

He was a Vermont native who lived in Fishkill. Others with ties to the Hudson Valley include Gunnery Sergeant Mark Hopkins, who lived near the base in New Windsor, and Sergeant Owen Lennon, who grew up in Rockland County. Reverend Chris Antal read the names of the 16 service members killed, nine of whom were based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, home of a Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron. And 16 community members lit 16 candles in their memory. Reverend Antal is president of the Greater Newburgh Interfaith Council and minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern. He explains why faith leaders held the Saturday night vigil.

“Because I was hurting and I knew that people around me were hurting, and it’s always better to hurt together than in isolation,” Antal says.

The transport plane was en route to California from North Carolina when it crashed in soybean fields in Mississippi. It was the deadliest Marine crash in more than a decade. Cornwall resident Vincent Serrano is vice junior Commandant of Marine Corps League Greater Newburgh Detachment 249.

“And Marines don’t pass away. We just get reassigned to guard the gates of heaven. That’s what we do,” Serrano says. “We don’t die.”

Pete Lawrence is captain of the nearby Salisbury Mills Fire Department.

“For us, with the Salisbury Mills Fire Department, we do a lot with the National Guard, with mutual aid, stuff like that. We just assisted them with the air show,” says Lawrence. “We have a lot of members ourselves that are part of the military and the National Guard. So it just hits us hard, too.”

Poughkeepsie resident and Marine Dennis Maloney attended the vigil.

“A number of Marines are killed and they’re local. Somebody’s got to come out and show respect and honor and whatever, seriously,” Maloney says. “It’s not just something we forget or brush under the rug, no. Somebody has to come out and support the Marines who lost their lives and their families.”

Antal says such deep tragedy and pain have befallen the community before.

“Well, we live in a community that has lived through September 11. We have a lot of firefighters and first responders. A member of my own congregation lost his brother in the towers. He was a fireman on September 11.  So this is a community that knows pain and knows hardship,” says Reverend Antal. “It’s also a community of many military veterans. We’re close to West Point.  And so we know the pain of deployment, we know the pain of combat, and we know the pain of tragic and untimely death.”

Jeff Purdy is with service to the armed forces with the American Red Cross.

“And our role in the Red Cross and in service to the armed forces is to provide continuing support for our service members, their families and our veterans and their families,” says Purdy. “And so being here tonight is just part of that, just to show our support.”

Fort Montgomery resident Laurie Tautel, who has family in the military, says the shock is still fresh. She carried a candle for a service member and signed the 16 condolence cards for the families of the fallen service members.

“I signed, ‘My heartfelt prayers are with you and your family,’ and my name.”

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