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Shelter Island remembers the meaning of Memorial Day

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO A rifle detail of uniformed veteran a volley at Memorial Day ceremonies in the Center.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO A rifle detail of uniformed veterans fire a volley at Memorial Day ceremonies in the Center.

The Shelter Island Memorial Day celebrations were accompanied by a morning of unseasonably cold weather and hard, wind-driven rain.

No matter. The traditions were intact.

A good group of Islanders of all ages in rain gear and umbrellas turned out in the Center to remember and honor the Island’s war dead, as well as their countrymen and women across the nation killed in action in America’s wars.

There was the traditional march of veterans led by a uniformed color guard, followed by members of the Fire Department and the Ladies Auxiliary, scouts, the ambulance squad, the Shelter Island High School band playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The colored flashing lights of fire department vehicles and the ambulances were especially bright in the wet, gray day.

On the porch of American Legion Mitchell Post 281, Howard Jackson delivered the Memorial Day address.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO World War II veteran Howard Jackson delivered the Memorial Day address on the porch of American Legion Mitchell Post 281.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO World War II veteran Howard Jackson delivered the Memorial Day address on the porch of American Legion Mitchell Post 281.

A veteran of World War II, Mr. Jackson flew on more than 40 missions over Europe as a member of the 15th U.S. Army Air Force, seeing action almost every time he and his mates took to the skies.

Mr. Jackson began by echoing what Legion Commander Dave Clark had said earlier to the crowd, that this Memorial Day marks 100 years since America joined World War I, “the war to end all wars” Mr. Clark said. Both he and Mr. Jackson noted the irony of the slogan, with the numbers of wars and American killed in action since 1917.

Mr. Jackson said that 72 years ago, as a 20-year-old airman, he stood with his fellow combat crew members on an airfield in Italy outside the town of Foggia, where they attended a Memorial Day ceremony to honor their fallen comrades.

“It is as emotional today as it was then,” Mr. Jackson said.

He recalled going to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, finding the name of his nephew, Thomas Peter Jackson, on the wall and saluting.

Mr. Jackson asked those gathered to reflect on those who gave their lives, and said that his generation lost 293,000 to World War II, that Korea claimed 33,000 American lives, and 47,500 were killed in action in Vietnam. In the wars since, many more young Americans have also made the ultimate sacrifice, Mr. Jackson said.

The veteran turned to poetry before he finished, noting that the wearing of poppies to remember the war dead springs from John McCrae’s 1915 poem, “In Flanders Field:”

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Mr. Jackson concluded, by saying, “Memorial Day is every day.”

Father Peter DeSanctis of Our Lady of the Isle then named the 18 Shelter Island men who were killed in action from the Civil War to Afghanistan.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO High school seniors Olivia Yeaman, left and Julia Labrozzi played taps at the Memorial Day ceremonies.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO High school seniors Olivia Yeaman, left and Julia Labrozzi played taps at the Memorial Day ceremonies.

“Taps” was played by high school seniors Olivia Yeaman and Julia Labrozzi. A rifle detail at the Wilson circle of seven uniformed veterans shot loud volleys into the air.

Then many moved into the American Legion Hall to have the traditional Shelter Island Memorial Day spread provided by the Lions Club of hot dogs, burgers and ice cream.

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