Crisp golden and russet fall foliage formed a stunning backdrop for the scene, but the red, white and blue were front and center when the Island paused to honor its service men and women on Veterans Day.
Guiding citizens to the Legion Hall/Community Center for the ceremony were dozens of placards along the median bearing flags and the names of Island veterans, living and dead, who had served.
At 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11, Councilman Jim Colligan opened the ceremony, with Islanders sitting quietly or standing in small groups to pay respects.
Rev. Charles McCarron of St. Mary’s Church offered a prayer for those who have served in uniform, many of whom struggle long after their time in combat has ended — “whose nights are haunted by memories too painful for the light of day.”
Father Peter DeSanctis from Our Lady of the Isle blessed the memory of those veterans from the Island who had passed away this year: Richard Baron, John H. Byington and Ted Dickerson.
The Islanders who gathered included veterans, some in uniform, some not; families representing generations who have answered the call to duty; respectful school students and toddlers in the arms of grandfathers. Several children took part in the raising of the American flag along with American Legion Commander Dave Clark.
Mr. Colligan, a retired U.S. Army colonel and Vietnam veteran, reviewed America’s service through wars from World War I through Afghanistan. Veterans of those wars were honored along with the memory of Islanders serving in the Civil War and the American Revolution.
Touching on the most recent military engagements, Mr. Colligan said the withdrawal from Afghanistan was not perfect but that did not take away from what American forces accomplished there. He was greeted by applause when he said “the bottom line is that major terrorist attacks on our nation were denied by the sacrifices and efforts made by service men and women from the United Sates and other allied nations. They put their lives on the line to keep us safe. There were some success stories in Afghanistan which disrupted and decimated al-Qaida and weakened their global network. As a result, Afghanistan has not been the staging ground for another successful attack against our homeland.”
Mr. Colligan cited an account in the Reporter of Zack Mundy, a graduate of Shelter Island Schools in 2010, who enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in Afghanistan from October 2011 to June 2012, mostly in Helmand Province. “Zack described the Helmand Province as one of the most dangerous places in the world, but a place where there was a good relationship between the Marines and the local population. He said, ‘They wanted us there,’ and ‘we were respectful and they were respectful people.’”
Mr. Colligan continued, “Zack remembered with warmth a gesture he learned during his service, the Afghan greeting of shaking hands and then taking that hand and placing it over your heart. ‘We’d do the same thing,’ he said.”
Mr. Colligan stressed that disagreements over the political issues surrounding our military engagements should never detract from the honor and respect owed to men and women in uniform as they carried out their duties.
Pam Gates, President of the American Legion Auxiliary, spoke about the many ways ordinary Americans can defend our freedom, including “voting … speaking out against injustice, and teaching our children what it means to be an American.”
To close the ceremonies, the Select Student chorus from Shelter Island School sang “God Bless America” as members of the audience sang along softly. Elsie Mae Brigham, Jade Samuelson and Kaitlin Gulluscio were led by their director, Lauren Farkas. Earlier, the chorus included Lily Page and Olivia Overstreet, singing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Lily and Olivia had to leave after the national anthem to play in the volleyball regionals, taking the cheers of the audience along with them. Dr. Stephen Adkison of the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church gave a benediction.
The official ceremony over, clusters of people lingered in the sunshine, acknowledging that such gatherings still felt new and special after a year of COVID isolation. It was worth a few moments more to acknowledge the importance of expressing the Island’s gratitude to those who had given so much to protect all that, as a small community and a nation, Americans cherish.