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Year in Review 2022: Shelter Island’s day of tradition, memories and community

This story appeared on Memorial Day 2022.

Rituals require structure and consistency, performing the same rites at specific times, to pass along the meaning of significant occasions from generation to generation. Shelter Island’s Memorial Day has filled that bill every year on the last weekend in May, and Monday was no different.

The Island’s Memorial Day began, as it always does, at Piccozzi’s dock on Bridge Street. At 8 a.m., the Lost at Sea Ceremony took place, with the throwing of a wreath into the water and an honor guard salute. Penny and John Kerr provided a stirring rendition of The Navy Hymn, which Ms. Kerr said she had struggled a bit to get through.

“I get emotional,” Ms. Kerr said. She was remembering several family members who had served in the armed forces, including her father, a World War II veteran, an uncle who landed at Normandy, and her brother, a U.S Navy veteran who served during the Viet Nam War. All of them were in her thoughts as she sang.

“I hate war,” she said, adding that she never forgets to honor those who have served.

Debbie and Orlando Salazar were on North Ferry Road near the library with others waiting for the parade to step off from the Center Firehouse. The couple recently retired from decades of owning and operating the Eagle Deli.

The parade was a first for Mr. Salazar, who said that before retiring he had worked almost every Memorial Day. He was enjoying his retirement, he said, especially having the opportunity to attend this community event to honor the fallen.

Under a blue sky with thin trails of white clouds, the parade received applause and cheers from a good-sized crowd on the first really hot day of the year. A Color Guard led antique cars carrying veterans, and the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services were represented with marchers and vehicles.

EMS volunteers receiving appreciative applause.
Color Guard leading the way.

The Fire Department’s and American Legion’s Ladies Auxiliaries  marched proudly — the women got a good hand from the crowd, many noting the hours they put in organizing the day’s events.

The Shelter Island Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary marching proudly in the parade.

In front of the Community Center, Father Charles McCarron, pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, gave the invocation, asking the crowd to “pause, gather ourselves in the presence of God, and think why we’re here. This is a sacred day. ”

Linda Bonaccorso sang the National Anthem, as she does every year, with the crowd singing along, their voices hushed, beginning as a soft, rolling murmur, but gradually growing stronger and clearer.

Michael “Zack” Mundy gave the 2022 Memorial Day address — one of the most eloquent in years — with the Marine Corps veteran’s words holding the crowd spellbound. He spoke little about himself, but more about a fellow Marine he never met but whose story he has never forgotten.

Marine Corps veteran Michael “Zack” Mundy gave a stirring and heartfelt address.

Born and raised on the Island, Mr. Mundy, who comes from a military family, served in Afghanistan as a 20-year-old member of the Third Battalion, Third Marines, from October 2011 to June 2012. Now 29, he began his address by thanking the Legion for asking him to speak, and noted, “From the American Revolution to now, we have lost 2,852,901 U.S. service members. And that doesn’t include the 17 veterans that take their own lives daily because of their inner demons.”

He then told the story of hearing from other Marines about Sgt. Joe Wrightsman, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “While Sgt. Wrightsman and his Marines were patrolling with Afghan trainees, they attempted to wade across the fast-flowing Helmand River,” Mr. Mundy told the silent crowd. “He made it, but an Afghan trainee did not. Sgt. Wrightsman quickly jumped in to help him and they were both swept away. Wrightsman’s body was found later, about a mile away. He had drowned trying to save the Afghan. Although I never met Sgt. Wrightsman, his story has always stuck with me. He didn’t have to jump into the Helmand River to try and save this person from drowning. But he did it anyway. He sacrificed everything that day.”

He noted that on Shelter Island residents rightly remember Islanders killed in action, especially the last one, 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, killed in action in Afghanistan on June 4, 2010. “But I now challenge everybody standing here, before you all go to the beach, or pools, or start up your grills,” Mr. Mundy said. “Go home and read about a fallen service member, and learn their story. Learn about someone who didn’t live here. Honor the sacrifice of others, even if you didn’t know them in life. This is the best way to keep their memories alive and is what Memorial Day is all about.”

Father Peter DeSanctis read the names of Islanders who have died in America’s wars, as he always does. An honor guard stationed in Wilson Circle — named for Sgt. James Wilson Jr., who died in Vietnam — fired a salute.

The loud gunfire was soon followed by Taps played by Tanya Schmid on her trumpet, her clear, mournful tone a perfect counterpoint for the silence in the Center. This was the 20th Memorial Day Ms. Schmid has played, and will be her last, for the time being. A graduate of Shelter Island High School, she has started a family in upstate New York and will find it difficult to get away for the Memorial Day weekends.

Rev. Stephen D. Adkinson, pastor of the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, gave a closing prayer, asking for guidance, and praying for “peace in our world, in our country, and let it begin in our hearts.”

The crowd moved to the lawn of the Community Center for lunch, courtesy of the Lions Club, the smoke from grills rising along with the voices of Islanders lining up, and the sound of children’s laughter.

Lining up for the traditional Lions Club Memorial Day barbecue.