Editor’s Note: William (Bill) Colton is the 47th District Assembly member representing Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.
As summer approaches, many of us in southwest Brooklyn will be celebrating Memorial Day by enjoying barbecues, parties and time off from work and school. But while we gather with our families and spend time resting and relaxing, it’s important that we also remember why the holiday was created – to honor the brave men and women who have lost their lives defending our nation’s freedom. The meaning of the day should move us to say a prayer or hold a moment of silence to remember the men and women who perished fighting for our freedoms and those that continue to fight on our behalf.
In 1866, Waterloo, NY, became the birthplace of modern Memorial Day. Families gathered to celebrate the sacrifice of fallen soldiers and honored their loved ones by placing flowers on their graves and lowering American flags to half-staff. Today, family and friends still come together every spring in the spirit of commemoration, holding remembrance ceremonies and pausing to show gratitude to those who have lost their lives in the many difficult wars our nation has been involved in since that first gathering. From the volunteer soldiers serving in the Continental Army to secure the birth of our nation, to those that stormed the shores of Normandy and Iwo Jima during World War II, to those that fought in the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War, to those who answered the call after the attacks on 9/11, we must remember all who fought for our country and our freedoms.
As we remember the fallen, we should also recognize the sacrifices of surviving soldiers, veterans and their families. These brave men and women serving abroad or returning home from war are sons and daughters, and many of them are parents themselves. They all have sacrificed precious time with their families and their own children, and put their lives on the line in order to defend our country and the rights we often take for granted.
As your State Assembly Member, I look to support and help our veterans by working toward finding solutions to the problems they are facing. I feel that it is my duty to fight the battles for them in Albany, as they have fought for us around the world.
We continue to deliver and improve upon a myriad of veterans’ programs, from property tax relief to small business start-up assistance, incentives for employers to hire vets, accessible mental health services, and assistance for going back to school. However, there are always more battles for us to fight.
In 2013, I was proud to have voted for a program to create, and perpetually maintain, official veterans’ cemeteries in New York State. We also created the Veterans Remembrance and Cemetery Maintenance Fund, to which individuals filing their income tax returns can contribute. While it is a posthumous honor, their service and sacrifice deserve recognition by the state of New York.
We can continue to honor them by teaching our youth the importance of the American flag, and through primary accounts of military history, its role in protecting our democratic institutions. Capturing these accounts and sharing them with our children is crucial to honoring the memory of our heroes. For this reason, I introduced legislation to direct the Division of Veterans’ Affairs to create a veteran’s speakers program, to make it easier for schools to invite veterans to discuss their experiences with students. This legislation was signed into law in 2013.
In 2014, I helped pass the Service-Disabled Veterans-Owned Business Act, which would set the goal of six-percent for the state’s procurement contracts to be with businesses owned, at least by 51%, by service-disabled veterans. This legislation also calls for the director to compile a public directory which will be posted on the State’s Office of General Services website of certified service-disabled veteran-owned businesses and to collect and distribute information to assist service-disabled veteran-owned businesses.
In addition, another piece of legislation that I introduced to help our armed forces was signed into law in late 2013. This law exempts members of the military upon returning to New York from having to pay New York sales tax on vehicles that they purchased while stationed in another state, provided that they paid sales tax in the other state. In other words, this law ends a duplicate sales tax for members of the military.
Moreover, every year in November, I hold a community event honoring our neighborhood veterans. During this ceremony organized near Veterans Day, I present New York State Assembly Citations of Honor to the men and women of our neighborhood who have served our country in our armed forces. I also make sure to thank all of our veterans for their commitment to our nation and their courageous service.
I ask that this Memorial Day please take a few moments to realize how fortunate you are to enjoy the freedoms given to you by our body of laws and the men and women who protect them. More importantly, take the time to thank a soldier or a veteran, and keep them in your thoughts and prayers. The men and women in uniform, who have selflessly served our country and defended our freedom, are an inspiration to us all. I remain dedicated to honoring and preserving the memory of those who have been lost in action, and I will continue striving to find ways to support our veterans, troops and their families, while at home and abroad.
God bless you and your families, and God bless the United States of America.