Soaked flags, their colors gleaming in the gray day, fluttered heavily in the wind and rain on Memorial Day.
The Brownie troop took shelter from the steady downpour in the opened doors of the Center firehouse and the Boy Scouts were under the protection of Chase Bank’s drive-thru across the street.
Both groups stepped off in good order for the Shelter Island Memorial Day parade at precisely 10 a.m.
They were joined by others coming out from under Schmidt’s awning, as a color guard marched past and the Shelter Island High School band stuck up a jaunty rendition of “Stars ‘n Stripes Forever.”
According to published reports, many communities in the region canceled Memorial Day parades because of the weather, but the Island’s parade, if sparsely attended compared to other years, proudly made its way from the firehouse to Wilson’s Circle.
Firefighters in dress uniforms and others in foul weather gear marched, along with the Emergency Medical Services volunteers, the Daughters of the American Revolution and veterans in uniform. Some older veterans passed in antique cars. 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, veteran Cliff Clark gave a moving address from the steps of American Legion Mitchell Post 281, repeating his theme throughout: “Who do you remember?”
The rain became mist and there was complete silence from the small crowd as Mr. Clark spoke.
“Everyone who dies in service to our nation becomes a statistic somewhere, but each was, in fact, the most important person in someone’s life,” Mr. Clark said. “That’s how personal every day is for those who lost loved ones and that is how personal it should be to all of us. Please, as you honor the dead, make it personal.”
Mr. Clark remembered three people he had been close to who had been killed in action — James Wilson, Jordan Haerter and Joseph Theinert Jr.
Speaking for all the fallen, Mr. Clark said: “It is too easy — much too easy — to institutionalize this day and forget that their individual characteristics and selfless service to country defy easy categorization. They were, and still are, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and friends. They were brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They are our true heroes.”
Near the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Clark said the ones who were remembered “are who a grateful nation honors on this rainy day of remembrance.”
Father Peter DeSanctis of Our Lady of the Isle Church named the 18 Shelter Island men who were killed in action from the Civil War to Afghanistan.
Before many moved into the American Legion Hall to have the traditional Memorial Day spread provided by the Lions Club of hot dogs, burgers and ice cream, the rifle detail shot rounds into the air. Each concussive volley caused those gathered to flinch. When the sound ebbed, children scrambled to gather the spent cartridge shells on the pavement.