Standing near the edge of Collins Town Park is a flagpole that displays the nation's colors; at its base is now a plaque that reads: "Dedicated to S. Sgt. James T. Hackemer."
On a breezy Nov. 12 afternoon, a sizeable group gathered at the park for a ceremony to dedicate the flagpole to Sgt. Hackemer.
SOLEMN DEDICATION — Onna Wilson, right, sings the National Anthem during the Flagpole Dedication Ceremony honoring Sgt. James Hackemer last Monday afternoon, Nov. 12. A large crowd gathered for the event at the Collins Town Park, which was held in memory of Sgt. Hackemer, who sustained life-threatening injuries, including the loss of his legs, while serving in Iraq. An accident at an area amusement park claimed the Army hero's life last year. (Photo by Mary Pankow)
As Legion Post 409 Color Guard and Honor Guard stood at attention, the ceremony got under way.
Collins Town Supervisor Dave Tessmer welcomed everyone and said, "It is with a heavy heart that I stand before you ... to celebrate the life of one of our own."
Supervisor Tessmer then spoke of Hackemer's life, starting with his birth in Springville in 1982, the youngest of six children of Nancy and John Hackemer. The Army sergeant attended Gowanda schools, taking a hiatus in the 10th grade to travel to Germany, where his sister was stationed, attending school there and then returning to finish his senior year in Gowanda.
WORDS OF ADMIRATION — Elliott Tessmer, right, reads a passage by resident Margaret Degenfelder, which honored veterans. Pictured next to him is his father, Collins Town Supervisor Dave Tessmer. (Photo by Mary Pankow)
Following high school, Hackmer enlisted in the U.S. Army and attended basic training in Missouri, "on his way to becoming a military police officer," Tessmer said. Among the places he was stationed were the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, Bosnia and, in 2003, Hackemer began his first tour in Iraq. After that he attended K-9 school in Kentucky and, in 2006, received orders to report to Germany.
It was also in 2006 that he was married, and a daughter was born the following year. In December 2007, Hackemer received orders to Iraq. While on patrol in March 2008, his armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb. Three of the four soldiers in the vehicle lost their legs, among them was Sgt. Hackemer, who also sustained a traumatic brain injury. While undergoing surgery in Baghdad, he suffered two strokes and his heart stopped beating.
The Army sergeant was flown to Germany and then Bethesda, Md., where he remained in a coma and during which time a second daughter was born, Tessmer said. He was flown to a rehab facility in Boston five weeks later. While there he underwent intense therapy and also regained his memory of that fateful day. He was taken to Walter Reed Hospital and then arrived home.
Sadly, in 2011, Hackemer was fatally injured during an accident at an area amusement park.
PLAQUE OF APPRECIATION —The flagpole, which was dedicated last Monday to Army Sgt. James Hackemer, now has a permanent plaque installed at its base in remembrance of the sergeant who served in Irag. (Photo by Mary Pankow)
"A mom and dad lost a son, two beautiful girls lost their dad, a country lost a hero," Tessmer said. "In the words of his mom, 'God had other plans for him.'"
The Collins supervisor went on to say, "This is more than a flagpole, it's a symbol of his bravery, a timeless tribute to a soldier who selflessly volunteered to protect us. A man who fought for us, a son who died for us, so we could stand here today."