In honor of Veterans Day, the Centers nursing homes in the area have all hung up a Wall of Honor memorializing every resident who served during a time of war.
They held ceremonies all week to give each resident a plaque thanking them for their service.
At the Glens Falls Center in Queensbury, the wall is in the dining room. It has proven to be a popular place for veterans to swap stories about being ordered around, doing chores and the unpredictable nature of working as a private first class in the Army.
“Nobody guesses anything that happens in the Army,” said former Army Pfc. Tony Lopez at the Glens Falls Center on Friday.
“Except KP!” hollered Canadian Navy veteran Barry Pain.
Lopez grinned. He knew no one could predict what he’d been ordered to do for two years in Germany, just after World War II ended.
He was assigned to play baseball.
“Yes. I played ball. A pretty good job, isn’t it?” he said. “It was a lot of fun. We traveled all over.”
He was drafted at age 21, just as the war ended. The Army trained him anyway and sent him to Frankfurt. There, he was voted one of the best shortstops, and off he went on a baseball tour.
“It felt great. It was good duty,” he said, laughing. “It made all the papers at home.”
Home was Glens Falls, where his family had a food business. After his two-year stint, he was happy to return to real life.
“I was glad to get home,” he said. “But I still played baseball, because it was in my blood.”
Pain had a very different experience. He was ordered into the Navy after he was caught joyriding in Canada.
“People would leave their keys in their cars and we used to take them at night and take a load of girls with us,” he said.
The judge told him to “get in one of the services” or he’d be sent to a dreaded lock-down Boys School for a year. He was in a quandary: he was 17, and the services generally did not accept people under 18. So he applied to all three, lying about his age to each one, and took the first one that wanted him.
That led to a two-year stint on a destroyer escort, a small ship, patrolling the North Atlantic.
“A little DE is like being in a canoe” on the ocean, he said. “It would come slamming down the wave. In a storm, the chief petty officer and I were the only ones who could eat.”
In port, he was up to his old tricks — chasing girls, which is what landed him in the Navy in the first place.
Eventually he settled down, but the fearlessness never left him. He became a steeplejack, doing construction on top of bridges, water towers and other tall structures. At retirement, he had worked his way up to inspector.
He doesn’t plan to stay at Glens Falls Center for long — he’s there for rehab from a cracked hip. But he’s enjoying the military camaraderie by the Wall of Honor while he’s there.
Others offered a more somber conversation about their service.
“It was disgusting,” said Robert Cowles, who was an airman first class stationed in Germany from 1955 to 1957.
He and two friends snuck into a part of the Dachau concentration camp one day and he was shocked by the conditions there, a decade after the camp was liberated.
“It still smelled of burnt flesh,” he said. “And I saw the ovens. We looked in one oven and saw human bones. They were still there!”
Enosch “Ed” Zylowski, who served as an Army sergeant in Korea during hostilities that led to the Korean War, was similarly reluctant to talk about his time in service.
“It was kinda rough,” he said of the Korean War.
He signed up for the service, hoping to help preserve democracy and stop the spread of communism.
“To help out,” he said.
No peace treaty was ever signed and Korea is still separated into North and South Korea. When asked if his service there was worth it, he shrugged sadly.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Still, he and others were touched to receive plaques thanking them for their service. An honor guard performed a flag folding ceremony, and a veterans chaplain opened the ceremony with a prayer. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars also sent representatives.
“It was very moving,” said resident Bonnie Quackenbush, president of the residential council.