Gabriel Rosenfeld was a witness to history. Serving as an Army private in the European theater of World War II, he traveled through France, Belgium and Germany. His service, which included being wounded while deployed, earned him a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Monday, at the Town of New Castle's annual Memorial Day parade, the Chappaqua resident of more than six decades earned another award for service: a French Legion of Honor medal, at the status of Chevalier, conferred for his role, which was connected to the liberation of the country from Nazi Germany's occupation.
Before a large crowd at Chappaqua's memorial circle that gathered for the culmination of the parade, Rosenfeld received the medal from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with former President Bill Clinton by his side.
“The French people will never forget your courage and your devotion to the great cause of freedom," read a letter - it was announced via parade Grand Marshal James McCauley - from François Delattre, France's ambassador to the United States. The conferment of the medal was last September, by decree of then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In an interview, Hillary Clinton, also former first lady and U.S. Senator for New York, said she was "deeply touched" that she was asked.
Describing Rosenfeld, she added, “It’s such a great honor for him, but he has been such a treasure for Chappaqua, that it’s wonderful that the entire community could see him receive this honor that he earned in World War II.”
Rosenfeld's family was thrilled with his newest honor.
“Oh, it’s fantastic," said his son, Eric. His wife, Sally, said it was "amazing" that he's been honored for so many things. Rosenfeld's wife, Louise, said it was wonderful.
His accomplishments are long. Rosenfeld, 86, served on New Castle's Zoning Board of Appeals for more than three decades, and on boards of local groups ranging from Northern Westchester Hospital to Neighbors Link. After returning from service, he graduated from Cornell University, and pursued careers in law and on Wall Street.
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The Memorial Day parade was heavily attended; the streets of downtown Chappaqua crowded with onlookers. A who's who of people and groups from the community marched, including the Clintons, who are two of the Chappaqua hamlet's, and by extension, New Castle's most prominent residents. Also on hand was Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow New Castle resident.
Talking with reporters after the parade, Hillary Clinton was asked about why she attends the parade; the Clintons have been regular visitors to the event each year.
“Because I feel strongly that we all need to honor those who have given their lives for our country, over the course of our history and I like the idea of doing it where I live, with people who are part of the day-to-day life of this community but who take time out every year to remember and express gratitude," she said.
Chappaqua will be seeing more of Clinton, as she plans to step down from her cabinent position at the end of President Barack Obama's term early next year.
"I’m looking forward to it!"
Others marching ranged from New Castle Town Board and Chappaqua school board members, local girl scouts, Horace Greeley High School band players and a regional Vietnam War veterans group.
With the passage of time, the parade served as a reminder for the public about the role and value of Memorial Day.
Lt. Joseph Goldreich, an area Naval veteran of World War II and a grand marshall emeritus, talked about the day's history, tracing it back to its post-Civil War roots and its evolution over time. Goldreich was also honored by state Assemblyman Robert Castelli, a Vietnam veteran whose district includes New Castle, with a certificate of appreciation.
Among those from the community who got to march was 6th grader Rachel Hirschman, a student at Seven Bridges Middle School, who went with her grade's marching band. It was her first time playing in the event.
“I didn’t realize there was so many people here," she said.
Most notably, in the spirit of Memorial Day, the parade was marked with several signs of remembrance for veterans, whether through the playing of taps, the addition of a wreath in front of the victory monument at the intersection of King Street and Bedford Road, and of a roll call of New Castle residents who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty during war.