Monday morning was chilly and bright, perfect autumn conditions for Veterans Day celebrations in front of American Legion Mitchell Post 281 in the Center.
A long, double line of children stretched from the flag pole where Legion Commander Dave Clark gently gave instructions to the youngsters holding a section of Old Glory. He hitched the flag to ropes and handed them to another set of older children who pulled.
The large flag slipped through the children’s hands and rose slowly, finding a breeze, unfurling and straightening against the cloudless blue sky. Bells from the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church tolled the 10 o’clock hour through the silence.
Veterans Day ceremonies are simple, poignant and moving on Shelter Island, and Monday’s version followed tradition, as Islanders of all ages gathered to remember those from their hometown who served in the military, and all the others in hometowns across the nation.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Pastor Charles McCarron gave an invocation and listed those veterans who have passed away since last year’s Veteran’s Day: Alexander Budd, George Walsh and Reverend Canon Paul Wancura.
After Islander Linda Bonnocorso gave a soaring rendition of the National Anthem, Pam Jackson, treasurer of the American Legion Auxiliary, spoke about “all the things in life that are important — health, family and faith — cannot survive without help and hard work … We have freedom and life is abundant and we have seen, in these troubled times, that freedom without fear is vulnerable. We cannot take our freedom for granted.”
Veterans, she noted, have sacrificed many things, “Some gave their lives. Some came home broken.”
Ms. Jackson quoted Theodore Roosevelt, who said that veterans “by their lives, by the record of their deeds, teach us in more practical fashion than can be taught by any preaching …”
She asked that veterans receive “our support and love. They need to be reassured and respected and given opportunities and a life upon returning home.”
Councilman Jim Colligan, a Vietnam veteran, gave the keynote address. Mr. Colligan said that ceremonies this year marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
“Shelter Island sent 65 men and one woman, Army Nurse Gertrude Clark, off to war,” he said. “The Town of Shelter Island erected the monument across the street on school grounds to honor the town’s World War I veterans.”
Mr. Colligan remembered his own service and homecoming, mentioning that the treatment of returning vets has improved over the last couple of decades.
After noting that there are 18.5 million American veterans, he said that his message to his fellow Islanders is “not to focus merely on history and statistical data, but to look at things that we can do to demonstrate our appreciation to the veterans and active military that continue to serve our country.”
He identified several steps to show appreciation for the veterans among us, including showing up for Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies and other special events; express appreciation for a veteran’s service and ask them about their experiences “and be patient and understanding;” hire veterans when the opportunity arises; and support the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund “to raise money for student scholarships, community organizations for active veteran groups and Gold Star Families.”
In closing, Mr. Colligan said, “Our young men and women need our help and we need to ensure that our political leaders understand their role in making medical care [for them] a top priority.”
The ceremonies then concluded with voices raised in song. Led by Shelter Island School’s Select Choir members Jennifer Lupo, Abby Kotula, Lyng Coyne and Amelia Clark, those gathered around the flagpole joined the choir’s young voices in “God Bless America.”