After a three year hiatus, Memorial Day Watchfire will return to the NYS Fairgrounds

05/28/2023 6:00 PM - 05/28/2023 10:00 PM

The Syracuse Watchfire will return to the NYS Fairgrounds this Memorial Day weekend after being canceled the last three years.

The Watchfire is a memorial where retired flags are put into a wood pile and burned to honor U.S. soldiers and veterans. Thousands of onlookers from all over Central New York come to watch. Syracuse receives a few thousand old flags and the fire is the size of a house once it’s lit.

The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 103 ran the event for over 35 years. It was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. The CNY Veterans Recognition Foundation is taking over the event — most Vietnam vets are reaching their 70s or 80s. The foundation plans on running the memorial for the next few years.

The Watchfire isn’t just a Syracuse tradition. Watchfires date back to the 18th and 19th century where fires were created to reunite troops who were lost or wounded in battle, according to John Paddock, one of the organizers of the event. Paddock is the chair of the Onondaga County Veterans Service Advisory Board.

“The watchfire is really a beacon to bring troops that were lost in battle, wounded, drifted off or just couldn’t find their way or may never come back. It’s just a memorial fire to honor them,” said Paddock.

There will be light refreshments like an ice cream stand and a DJ playing military music and music from the Vietnam War era. There’s also a memorial board signing where attendees can write messages to their loved ones they lost in war. The board, like the flags, will go up in flames.

If you have a tattered or retired flag, there will be directions on the CNYVRF’s website in the next few weeks on how to donate it for the fire.

If You Go:

What: CNY Watchfire 2023

When: Sunday, May 28 at 6 p.m. until dark

Where: Brown Parking Lot, NYS Fairgrounds

How Much: Free


581 State Fair Boulevard

Syracuse , New York 13209

Contact Information:

VVA Chapter 103