Nine Miles of Memories

Just outside of the world famous city of Saratoga Springs, NY, known for the inventions of the club sandwich and potato chips, the oldest horse racing track in the United States, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), the mineral springs, and the famous mineral baths that used to attract royalty and celebrities alike, lies a stretch of road nine miles long.

If you drive this nine mile stretch of road, you’ll pass through fields, over and along streams, and through wooded areas that seem to come alive with a past two centuries old. You won’t pass any convenience stores, but you’ll certainly see your share of wildlife; rabbits and deer call this place “Home.”

When you finish your drive through this landscape, you will be able to say you have driven through nine miles of the most historic pieces of land in America. You’ll step on some of the same grounds that helped shape our nation, breathed life into our independence from Great Britain, and where the turning point of the American Revolution took place.

I am talking about the Saratoga National Historical Park and the Battles of Saratoga. It was here where American patriots fought the British, defeating them and bringing the largest military force in the world closer to surrender. It was here where Benedict Arnold fought and was wounded. Yes, it’s along this road, that I not only relive history from colonial America, but also memories from my youth.

These grounds are not only home to deer, rabbits, and other wildlife. They’re not only home to centuries old trees that speak to you as you walk amongst them. They’re not only the burial sites of thousands of Continental Army and British soldiers. These grounds are home to some of my greatest memories in life.

It was along this road that I remember bike riding as a child. It was always a treat for us growing up, to load the bikes into the car and head to “the battlefield,” as we call it around here.

It was along this road that we used to come for a quiet drive, windows down (no matter how hot it was), radio off, and driving below the 25 mph speed limit on the one-way tour road. Even when I drive it today, I still turn off the radio and roll the windows down. It’s a land that although once soiled with blood, now demands peace; a land that once echoed with cannon and musket fire, now demands quietness. A land which was once filled with the battle cries of freedom, now asks for only whispers.

It was along this road that I learned to drive. My Dad once had a Ford Bronco stick-shift, and it was along these nine miles that I stalled and jerked the engine over and over. It was along this road that I learned how to push in the clutch, shift, stop on a hill, and come to a stop. It was also here that I learned the patience of a father.

Along this road I learned how to cross country ski, how to approach a deer from upwind, downwind, and everywhere in between. Along this same road is where I began to train and condition my body before joining the Air Force; running and walking the miles of pavement on cold March days in 2001.

Along these roads is where I returned in 2017 when I retired from the military. No longer a boy on a BMX bicycle, no longer a teenager learning to drive, and no longer a young man seeing how fast he could run a couple miles. I returned as an older man, weathered and experienced from life and death, war and peace, joy and sorrow. I returned to these grounds for one simple reason, and it’s the reason I keep going back.

From the very first day I rode my bike there, to the days I learned to drive, to the days my feet pounded the pavement, until now, the grounds remain the same. I return and can go to the same exact spot I went three decades ago, and it remains untouched. I can tell stories, or I can remain silent and just remember a day from years past come alive in the moment.

Nine miles of road. History shaped. Memories made. A life transformed.

For more information about this area, visit the Town of Saratoga Historian’s blog.

Walking Amongst Giants

Many of you who have kept up on my blog posts and who have gone further to check out my website, www.patriotimages.org, know that I am now heading into the second year of a project titled, “Faces of Veterans.”

The project, now turned into more of a journey, is focused on traveling across New York State and photographing as many of the 838,000 military veterans living within the state. Last year, over the span of ten months, we traveled to nine different NY counties and photographed approximately 1300 veterans and their guests. It has made a tremendous impact not only on the veterans and their families, but on me as well. So much, that I decided to pick it back up in 2020 and label it “Season Two.”

During Season Two, I am taking some of the feedback I received in 2019. Many viewers of the project expressed their interest in getting to know the veterans more personally. So this year, through the use of audio and video interviews, as well as photos, I am focusing on the more personal side of veterans and their lives.

Today was the first of what I hope to be many interviews. I met with a ninety-six year old WWII veteran named Mario in Lake George, NY. Mario was drafted after Pearl Harbor and became an Army medic. He spent eleven long months in Germany before returning home to his family. One of the things that I took away from today was his statement about why he joined.

“After the attack on Pearl Harbor, we had to do something. We couldn’t let this happen again. There wasn’t a man in my age group at the time who didn’t want to do whatever they could so this wouldn’t happen again.”

Mario “Doc” Mazzeo, WWII Veteran, United States Army

We live, breathe, and walk amongst giants. Mario’s generation, coined “The Greatest Generation,” is sadly a generation of brave American men who are passing away. There aren’t a lot of them left. Just several weeks ago, fighting infection, Mario was sent home from the hospital under hospice care. Thanks to his family by his side, his strong will to keep going, and his perseverance, Mario was full of energy and humor this afternoon when we spent a few hours together in his home.

Mario (left) and myself (right)

May God bless our men and women in uniform. May we never forget their sacrifices and their service to this great nation. May we honor them, their legacy, and forever remember that freedom is always a generation away from extinction.

Thank you Mario and family for such a great afternoon, for allowing me into your home, and sending me home a rich man with a full heart.

This Time of Year

There is something about this time of year. Here in the Northeast and in many other parts of America, the green grass is or has already turned a shade of brown, while the hills and forests were set ablaze with the awesome spectacular of autumn. Snow has made its appearance but has not yet blanketed the earth, while the nights have turned bitterly cold. Shorts, for most people, have been neatly folded in a drawer, while jackets and gloves have been hung by the door. We’ve searched for the ice scraper and once again are thankful for the remote starters in our vehicles. Yes, it’s that time of year.

While nature continues its course and life gives way unto death, something else tends to happen this time of year that seems to renew life and hope. While the outdoors becomes frigidly cold and the ground becomes harder, it seems this time of year always softens the hearts of mankind and we become a bit more sensitive to those around us. Things we may have been blind to for most of the other months throughout the year, seem to become painstakingly obvious to us in our daily travels. We notice the homeless individual standing on a corner, shivering and praying for warmth tonight. Many Americans in a couple of weeks will demonstrate this emotion they feel by going to homeless shelters and food pantries nearby to serve Thanksgiving meals. We remember those who are close to us and the family members who will be missing from the table on Thanksgiving Day. We remember the person fighting an illness or disease, knowing this holiday season may very likely be their last. We are reminded of the brave men and women of our Armed Forces, serving abroad and away from family and the comforts of home. It is without a doubt that our hearts become more sensitive to the needs of others around us during this time of year.

I don’t have an explanation for why this happens. Maybe it’s because while many of us take time to reflect on our blessings in life, we become more in tune with those who may not be as fortunate. Social media will be flooded in the next month with ways and opportunities to give to people and our communities, as well as others around the world. Men and women around the world will hear the ringing of a bell next to a red bucket at store entrances. Our hearts will become softer and some will be broken for others.

I end this with a question. No, maybe more of a challenge. This holiday season, what will you do in the service of a stranger? Will you stop for the homeless person, shivering and alone, on the street corner or in the park? Will you drop an extra dollar into the red bucket? Will you make that phone call to a family member that is long overdue? Will you reach out to the friend, who for the first time in many years, will spend this holiday season alone? Take advantage of this time of year, listen to what your heart is telling you to do, and move on it. For whatever reason this time of year inspires so many to go beyond themselves and reach out to others, be thankful for it and use it to impact someone else.


I always enjoy hearing from others who read my posts and gain something from it. Please feel free to leave a comment, share, subscribe, follow me on this journey. Thank you for taking the time to read these simple words.

Stephen Willette, CEO and Founder, Patriot Images New York, Inc. http://www.patriotimages.org

Making It Count, Part I

Yesterday, I told you about walking in a local cemetery, taking some wildlife photos, and just taking some time to be alone and think. I think cemeteries are a good place to do that. For one, they’re typically the most quietest of places you can possibly go to. The only noise that may break up the monotonous silence is a car, or in the case of a funeral with military honors, the sound of Taps playing from a bugle and the sound of rifle fire. Other than that, a cemetery can pretty much be counted on as being quiet.

I visit the Saratoga National Cemetery a lot. Not as much as I used to, but it’s a place I like to go to and spend time reflecting and thinking. I like other cemeteries as well however because of the many different stones. Some people have huge elaborate stones that probably cost more than my car. Some are small and if you blink you’ll miss it altogether. Some have a lot of ornaments and flowers, while some have nothing at all. This particular cemetery has numerous small buildings throughout, where people are placed, rather than in the ground. I say “small,” but some are more than half the size of a single car garage. I found it slightly comical when I saw a “For Sale” sign on one. I want to know that person’s secret!

As I walked around and waited for the sun to set a little lower, determined to walk my three miles I told myself I needed to, I realized I wasn’t alone. Now before you think I’ve lost it and I’m going to say, “I see dead people,” that isn’t the case. But truly, I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by people, who although they are no longer part of this world, once had breath. At one time they had living friends and family, they had passions, goals, desires, and an idea of what they wanted to accomplish. They had hopes and dreams, and while I hope each was fulfilled, I know realistically many departed this world with some unfinished work.

As I began to think about this reality and how life, even if we live to see over a hundred years old, is short. The first twenty years are spent learning how to become an adult, then we are an adult and spend all of our healthy and good years working for a retirement that we will most likely have less than twenty years to enjoy. Then we die. Not trying to sound blunt, but that is how each and everyone one of us is going to leave. There’s no avoiding it and all the age defying lotion and Essential Oils in the world isn’t going to change that. You and I are going to die. From the moment we are born we have begun the dying process.

I don’t want you to read up to this point and get depressed. Since we know the end result, and since we can do nothing to change yesterday, that should give us some hope. It should ignite a fire inside of us. It should give us a burning desire. A desire and passion I’m going to talk more about in the next entry, Making It Count, Part II. Why? Simply because each person I walked amongst in that cemetery once had a passion. For some it ended too soon. We owe it to each person no longer living.

Thank you for taking the time to read. I hope you enjoyed. If you did, will you do me a favor and type a comment, leave a message, or subscribe? Thank you!

We’re Alive, They’re Not, But We Have This In Common.

A cemetery located in Queensbury, New York at dusk.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Abraham Lincoln

I went for a walk yesterday. I’ve been on a mission to try and lose some weight before winter, and it was a beautiful fall day for a walk outdoors. I wanted to check out a pond that’s located inside a local cemetery, and take the opportunity to photograph some of the ducks and geese there. As the rain is falling here in Warren County, NY and a whopper of a rainstorm is inbound for our area, I am glad I took the opportunity to get out yesterday.

I started with a short walk around. Have you ever walked around in a cemetery? It’s quiet! I mean, it doesn’t matter what time of the day you’re there, it’s quiet! Walking around on the narrow blacktop road, it was like walking around inside of a public library. You pass people but you greet them and in return are greeted with a head nod. Maybe it’s something about cemeteries that keep people quiet. Like if you smile or speak more than a couple words to those you don’t know, you’ll be perceived as disrespectful. Needless to say, I had a lot of time to think as I walked around.

Without coming across sick, morbid, sinister, or any other choice word, I want to ask a very real question. What does every person in a cemetery have in common? Other than the obvious here folks. Think a little bit outside the box on this! What does everyone inside a cemetery have in common with everyone outside a cemetery?

They all, like us, had or have one shot at this life. There’s isn’t a single person buried in a cemetery that had a redo. There isn’t one single person that had multiple chances. They had one life. From the moment they took their first breath, until the moment they took their last, each and every person (like you and I) had or has one shot to make it count!

Making it count…

For the next couple of days, I’m going to dive a little deeper into this thought. Tomorrow, in Making It Count, Part I, I’m going to talk a little further about my experience while walking through this cemetery yesterday evening around sunset. I can tell you I wasn’t alone. I’ll tell you what I heard and what I felt. On Friday, I’ll wrap it up in the second and final part with what I left the cemetery with.


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Rating: 1 out of 5.
  1. Great message!