A perfect late spring morning of mild temperatures and high blue skies set the stage for the annual Shelter Island Memorial Day celebrations.
A parade stepped off from the Center Fire House on Monday, led by the High School band playing patriotic marches. A good group of Islanders of all ages turned out in the Center, ringing Wilson Circle 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, including, for the first time, Isabella Sherman, who graduated from Shelter Island High School last year and is now a private in the Corps of Cadets at Norwich University, The Military College of Vermont.
Following the color guard were members of the Fire Department and the Ladies Auxiliary, scouts, the Emergency Medical Services and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Antique cars — including several ancient Fire Department vehicles — rolled down Route 114 carrying veterans who received appreciative rounds of applause as they passed.
On the porch of American Legion Mitchell Post 281, Father Charles McCarron, pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, gave the invocation, asking the assembled Islanders to remember those killed in action “in the fullness of their living” and to “never break faith with the fallen.”
As Islander Linda Bonnocorso began the National Anthem, those assembled joined in. Their voices began as a soft, rolling murmur, but grew stronger and clearer as the verses proceeded.
Howard Jackson, 94, was introduced by Councilman Jim Colligan to give the annual address. 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.
He noted that the day was set aside to “reflect and remember.” He quoted John McCrae’s 1915 poem, “In Flanders Fields:”
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.
Mr. Jackson recalled preparing to go into combat over Europe, noting that he and all of his comrades “wanted targets of opportunity that didn’t shoot back. Which never happened.” He added, “Humor helped control the fear. And there was much fear.”
Again, Mr. Jackson asked the assembled Islanders to pause and reflect on the meaning of the day. “To those who served and survived, every day is Memorial Day,” and finished by quoting the last stanza of “Danny Boy.”
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me.
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
For you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.
Father Peter DeSanctis then read the names of the 18 Islanders who have perished in America’s wars, from the Civil War to Afghanistan.
Six uniformed veterans fired a volley of three shots in the silence, with everyone flinching at the sharp cracks of gunfire.
As the sounds of the shots faded, Shelter Island High School student Jason Green began playing “Taps” on the trumpet, while across the plaza, Tanya Schmid, a graduate of Shelter Island High School, echoed the mournful tune on her trumpet.
Reverend Robert Griffin, pastor of Shelter Island Presbyterian Church closed the ceremonies with a prayer, asking for “merciful blessings on those left behind.”
Then many moved on to the American Legion Hall grounds to have the traditional Shelter Island Memorial Day spread provided by the Lions Club of hot dogs, burgers and ice cream.
Islanders killed in action
Robert J. Congdon
Zebulon B. Glover
Randolph C. Griffing
J. Madison Hempstead
Charles H. Haven
Hudson Sylvester Nicoll
WORLD WAR I
Henry Martin Mitchell
WORLD WAR II
Charles W. Avona
Herbert Howard Power
Carl (Ed) Conrad
John W. Sanwald Jr.
Raymond C. Dickerson
Julius J. Scholtz
Joseph J. Theinert