Niagara Gazette

February 22, 2014

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: A proper salute for the Island's 'Uncle Sam'

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Marchers — It’s not every day they send off Uncle Sam with a 21-gun salute, and for many in the front rows at Island Presbyterian Church last Saturday, it’s just as well.

George Rowe had “reached the finish line” at 84, as pastor Carla Kline so benevolently put it. He was not the sort of fellow you’d think would lead the parade, or even tell others where it should go. Friends, offspring, colleagues, clergy, all commented on his quiet lifestyle and dedication to family, one noting that from beginning to end, he had had children in school for a total of 38 years.

He wasn’t quiet, he just couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

But on the Fourth of July, nobody didn’t know George Rowe. Seeming to get even taller and slimmer with the passing years, George sprouted a white beard, located a star-spangled suit and for well over a decade led off our Fourth of July parade, which is second to none on the Mainland when it comes to community spirit.

He didn’t just wear his love of country on his cuffs. He served in the Korean War, on an aircraft carrier, with steely nerves and steady hands attaching bombs to outgoing flights. Among the pilots he served was Alan Shepard, eventually America’s first man in space and, later, a moon-walker. Alan Shepard’s earthly ordnance caddy — stick that on your resume and see who salutes it.

Descendants memorialized him wryly, one having learned to drive a Mustang on which he had installed the transmission — backwards. After a singularly plaintive “Amazing Grace” on an electric guitar with a tone wiry enough to support a week’s wash, our Legionnaires, who had lined the sidewalk as mourners arrived, took their turn.

They opened the door for all to hear and through the noonday chill launched 21 shots skyward, three volleys, seven at a time. It took many by surprise, particularly the ladies in front of us, who seemed abundantly glad that it wasn’t 28. Taps followed and then it was time to break bread, which Isle Pres does with a singular style, and “talk George,” who had just 15 minutes of fame annually, but whose dedication taught us all.

Surely there’ll be more Rowe-miniscences this afternoon when the ladies of the Legion dish out spaghetti and meatballs starting at 4 at the Vets hall, 2121 Grand Island Blvd. It’s just $6 for early birds. Cheep-cheep, that’s us.

Come visit. Tuck in your napkin and say one for Uncle Sam.

Polly and DougE-mail