There were a couple of changes, both improvements, to the traditional and time-honored Shelter Island Memorial Day Parade.
One was that the invocation, remarks and Memorial Day address were presented on the lawn in front of American Legion Mitchell Post 281 rather than tucked away under the porch of the hall where few people could get good views of the speakers. The other and more welcome, improvement was an absence of pouring rain like the past several parades, even if it was cloudy and sweater weather.
The parade stepped off from the Center firehouse at 10 a.m. toward Wilson’s Circle, led by an honor guard of veterans as the drums from the Shelter Island High School Band boomed behind them, Gold Star Mother Chrys Kestler followed, accompanied by U.S. Coast Guard Reserve Petty Officer Patrick O’Halloran. Ms. Kestler is the mother of Lt. Joseph Theinert, the last Shelter Islander killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010.
Firefighters and the Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary in dress uniforms marched, along with Emergency Medical Services volunteers, Daughters of the American Revolution and veterans in uniform. Some older veterans passed in antique cars and fire department vehicles. All were given rounds of applause by the small but enthusiastic crowd.
As veterans lined up in formation and a rifle detail of seven uniformed veterans stood at the circle facing School Street, Father Charles McCarron, pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, gave the invocation in front of the American Legion post. He called on “Almighty God, the giver of peace and victories, to help us remember the valor” and sacrifices of the fallen “and teach us to honor them.” The pastor concluded his prayer by asking God’s help in keeping us “steadfast in the cause of civil rights, law, order and true Americanism.”
A highlight of the day was an a capella rendition of the National Anthem by 12-year-old Gabriella Clark, granddaughter of American Legion Commander Dave Clark. A hushed crowd listened as her voice soared through the Center. Not even a faulty amplification system could diminish the beauty of her singing.
Michael Bebon of South Ferry Hills, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel with 28 years’ service on active and reserve duty, gave the Shelter Island 2018 Memorial Day address. He thanked the volunteers who had placed flags on Island veterans’ graves Saturday evening, noting that Memorial Day grew out of “Decoration Day,” established in 1868 to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.
Asking the crowd not to forget those who died serving their country, the veteran also asked them to remember “those who were wounded and whose lives, and those of their loved ones, were forever altered as a consequence of physical or psychological injuries. We also remember those who remain missing in action and anxiously await the day when we can bring each of them home. All of these heroes deserve our gratitude and continued support.”
Mentioning that “We remember all Shelter Islanders lost in defense of our nation in wars past. We remember Joey,” and added that four members of the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard stationed in Westhampton Beach — Mr. Bebon’s old unit — died this year in a helicopter crash in Iraq.
“Over my years with the 106th, we grieved for several of our comrades, including two under my command … each life was a unique and precious treasure, cherished by many … each loss a terrible tragedy that tore at our souls and left an unfillable void,” he said.
He asked all to answer the call of duty for the common good by volunteering in our communities, “stepping up to elected office, by staying informed and getting out to vote, by simply being here today and perhaps most importantly, by ensuring that we unambiguously pass our values on to the next generation through open communication and leading by example. In time we will all pass our torches to them and we want to be sure they will hold them high.”
He finished by quoting General John A. Logan who gave the order to institute Decoration Day 250 years ago: “Let no ravages of time testify, to the present or to the coming generations, that we have forgotten as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic. If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.”
The crowd applauded and then went quiet as the mournful sound of “Taps” split the silence, played by two trumpeters, with Tanya Schmid near the library’s grounds and Jason Green across the road.
And as per tradition, Father Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle, read the names of the 19 Islanders who have been killed in action from the Civil War to Afghanistan, followed by the rifle detail in the circle firing loud, cracking volleys into the air.
After kids scrambled into the road to retrieve the empty shells, the crowd moved onto the American Legion grounds to have the Shelter Island Memorial Day spread of hot dogs, burgers and ice cream provided by the Lions Club and the American Legion.