BALLSTON SPA — The revival of a Saratoga County program that has honored more than 300 veterans who have died over 22 years took on an extremely personal tone Tuesday.
The last recipient, Robert G. Mitchell, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War, went on to serve as the county’s director of longtime veteran services, helping to create the very program that honored him, by August 1999.
The program was put on hold for about 19 months because of the pandemic, and sadly Mitchell died in August at age 85, with coronavirus a contributing factor in his death, along with other health issues, the successor said. of Mitchell, Frank McClement.
During the event, Tom Richardson, chairman of the Saratoga County Veterans Affairs Committee, read a prominent proclamation:
“The United States of America honors the memory of Robert G. Mitchell. This certificate is awarded by a grateful nation in recognition of dedicated and selfless dedication to service to our country and the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
It was signed by President Joe Biden.
After the ceremony, Mitchell’s son Glen said:
“I’m just so grateful that a lot of people said a lot of nice things about my dad… My dad was in the Navy for 20 years. He was a seasoned director for 21 years – and he loved every minute of it. He loved helping veterans. It was his whole life. »
Glen said he “couldn’t believe” the president’s recognition.
“When we saw this, we tried to stay together.”
A native of Saratoga Springs, Mitchell enlisted in the war in May 1953, eventually assigned to a “destroyer” known for its involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a support ship for Project Mercury space missions.
He served five years on foreign seas, retiring in June 1973 as petty officer first class. His military honors include the National Defense Service Medal.
McClement, director of the Saratoga County Veterans Service Agency, said recognizing fallen veterans is the county’s highest honor and the event was particularly poignant.
Robert Mitchell argued for veterans benefits for the father of McClement, a Vietnam War veteran who spent six months in a rehabilitation center after a massive stroke in 2000. At that time, McClement said , it was more difficult for veterans to obtain these benefits.
“A lot of things that veterans get today have changed,” McClement said. “Truth be told, we as veteran service officers our jobs can be tough. But in many ways it’s much easier than it was then. And that’s largely because of people like Bob.
“A lot of the conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure and some of those environmental exposures weren’t presumed — they weren’t slam dunk cases,” McClement said. “They take a lot of work, a lot of research, a lot of effort. Bob welcomed my father, worked with him, talked about his situation with his military service and gave him the documentation.
Addressing his comments to Mitchell’s family – Glen, Mitchell’s daughter Lisa Redcross, and granddaughter Baylee Mitchell, among other relatives – McClement said with tears in his eyes, “It’s because of your dad that my father was taken care of.
Mitchell chaired its last deceased veterans program in 2010.
McClement then praised Mitchell for being a county office cheerleader.
He recounted how Mitchell initiated Paul Mosseau, the county’s veterans service officer, into pranking him during a phone call to the office during which a “Bob Smith” grilled Mosseau on veterans’ benefits. fighters. The retired director then burst out laughing before revealing his identity.
From then on, the office called Mitchell Bob Smith.
Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen said Mitchell always parked her car just around the back door of her office, often greeting her with a smile while asking her what court she had been in and what business she worked.
“He represents the generation of men who stepped up and volunteered to fight for our freedoms in this country, freedoms that we cherish and that my office deals with every day,” Heggen said.
A representative from Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s office, R-NY, gave the family a flag that was flown in Mitchell’s honor over the nation’s capital, and Stefanik read a proclamation from the docket of Congress.
The flag was hoisted outside the Saratoga County building, where it will remain for 30 days, when it will be locked away and presented to Mitchell’s family.
County Supervisors Board Chairman Theodore Kusnierz Jr., County Clerk Craig Hayner, State Senator Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, Congresswoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston and a representative from the Office of Congresswoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake also gave the family proclamations.
Contact journalist Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.
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