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America’s first allies honor local veterans

Charles Pritchard
Posted 11/4/21

VERONA — The Oneida Indian Nation hosted nearly 400 local veterans, including OIN nation members and employees who served, at their 20th annual Veterans Recognition Ceremony and Breakfast — …

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America’s first allies honor local veterans

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VERONA — The Oneida Indian Nation hosted nearly 400 local veterans, including OIN nation members and employees who served, at their 20th annual Veterans Recognition Ceremony and Breakfast — honoring them for the service and recognizing their sacrifice.

The event got its start as a small gathering at the Ray Elm Children Center and later moved to the Shenendoah Club House as it grew in scope — but its purpose has remained the same.

“Peace was considered one of the greatest blessings the creator gifted us and for everyone that has served, that’s what they’ve strived for,” said Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter. “And we honor all of your extraordinary service and devotion to this country.”

Halbritter said it is through memorials and recognition events that people ensure that the contributions of veterans to the country are never forgotten. Two members of the Oneida Indian Nation were honored, recognizing theirs and their family’s service.

Kathy Kuhl, of the Wolf Clan, is a mother of five, who has seen three children serve in the American Armed Forces. Her daughter, Heather, served 12 years in the Air Force; her son, Will, served six years in the Army, including a deployment to Afghanistan; and her eldest son, Ron, served three years in the Marines.

“Traditionally, the women of the Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois people, have been in positions of power,” Halbritter said. “It’s nothing new to the Oneidas. We are a matriarchal society and women play a very special role for our people. And we are very grateful for the example Kathy has served for her family and our people.”

David Ernenwein, of the Turtle Clan, is an Air Force veteran who was stationed at Upper Heyford in the United Kingdom for two years and then spent his last two years of service at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. His father, John Ernenwein, is a Navy veteran who played a role in the response to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Ernenwein is currently the operation manager at Yellow Brick Road Casino and Sports Book, with more than 28 years of service with Oneida Nation Enterprises.

“We are proud of Ernenwein’s dedication to recruiting and hiring military veterans as well as our own Nation [veteran] members,” Halbritter said. “Thank you for your service.”

Guest speakers for the breakfast included Col. James Zacchino Jr., a native of New Jersey and Vicenza, Italy. Zacchino is the current garrison commander of Fort Drum.

Zacchino said it was a wonderful opportunity to meet so many veterans and thanked them for their service. “On behalf of the entire Fort Drum community, thank you.”

Zacchino thanked the Oneida Indian Nation for being America’s first ally, helping fight at some of the War of Independence’s bloodiest and stepping in during the war of 1812.

“It makes me proud to know that the Oneida were our army’s first allies, a title not widely known by many Americans,” he said.

Zacchino said the purpose of Veterans Day is not to recognize just one war or battle but to recognize all veterans who have served across the nation. He also lamented the veterans who struggle and need help, encouraging others to step up.

Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter was the breakfast’s second guest speaker, who served in the U.S. Army and has been a huge advocate for American veterans and their plight.

Hunter told the audience about a discussion she had with her seven-year-old son as they drove to volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner at a facility for homeless veterans.

“We were talking on the way there and my son asks ‘If they’re veterans, why are they homeless?’ and that just stuck with me,” she said. “They served our country, they volunteered to protect our freedoms, and when they come back you might see them on the side of the road, asking for money, or living in places [like a homeless shelter].”

Hunter said more needed to be done and taken one step further.

“It’s more than thanking a veteran, it’s taking that extra step and asking how we can help them,” she said. “I don’t want one more parent having that conversation and explaining to their child why that veteran is homeless.”

To that end, the Oneida Indian Nation presented a check for $1,000 to Feed Our Vets, a non-profit organization to providing fully-stocked food pantries for veterans.

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