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Shelter Island celebrates Veterans Day 2023: Rituals that bring the community closer

It’s been 105 years since the end of World War I, the war, it was said, to end all wars. But the armistice signed at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, was, in effect, a cease-fire that lasted 20 years until the same warring parties resumed the carnage.

Originally known as Armistice Day and observed annually by Americans on Nov. 11, it was declared a national holiday by Congress in 1938. In 1954, President Eisenhower officially changed the name to Veterans Day to honor those living and dead who served in uniform during times of war or peace.

The 2023 Shelter Island Veterans Day ceremonies on Saturday followed a pre-ordered script, one that has not changed in decades. Every Nov. 11, Islanders gather around the flagpole in front of American Legion Post 281 at Wilson Circle at 11 a.m. to remember and honor Island veterans and those across the country. Every year, there’s a welcome from the Legion commander; an invocation or opening prayer; a raising of the flag with Island children; the singing of the National Anthem; remarks from the leader of the Legion Auxiliary; a keynote address by a veteran; a group singing of “God Bless America”; and a final benediction by an Island clergyman. It all takes about half an hour.

Saturday was no exception, and like every year, those attending felt the power and comfort of an Island ritual. This marking of the calendar through certain unchangeable rites is often processed by people as something important, of being together and grounded in a community.

This has been demonstrated in research done by social psychologist Shira Gabriel, who has written that choreographed events, occurring at particular times of the year, “produce an emotionally laden experience,” reinforcing a community’s unity and bond to each member. “Rituals give us a feeling of going beyond the ordinary — of having a moment that transcends that, turning events into something special and meaningful,” Ms. Gabriel has written.

Saturday was just such an occasion, with Legion Commander Zach Mundy, a combat veteran of Afghanistan, welcoming the gathering on a cool and windy day of bright sun and deep blue skies. Then, veterans Mitchell and Sean Clark joined a small group of children to raise the flag.

One youngster’s voice could be heard, as Old Glory fluttered and then caught the wind and flew straight out, “Bye, bye, flag,” bringing laughs and smiles to the gathering.

(Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

Father Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle, gave a short but compelling invocation, noting that we are just two weeks from Thanksgiving, yet Veterans Day is a also a day for giving thanks to all serving or who have served their country.

“This is a good day to pray and work for P.E.A.C.E,” Father DeSanctis said, spelling the word. We should remember, he added, not only to work for peace in far-away conflicts, “but for peace in our families, in our marriages and in our places of work.” We should also pray, he added, “to stamp out the evil of intolerance, oppression and greed.”

Sara Mundy then sang the National Anthem in her strong, lovely voice, carrying through the crisp autumn air.

Legion Auxiliary President Rita Gates asked the gathering to “stop and pause and reflect on those who served,” and consider how each veteran is an individual who joined the military “to serve their country, or through a family history, or as a way out, to get an education or to escape poverty.”

Speaking of the struggles many veterans contend with, Ms. Gates asked that “we be better listeners to help our veterans.”

Marine 1st Lt. Patrick O’Halloran was introduced to give the keynote speech. Lt. O’Halloran has a strong connection to Shelter Island. He worked during summers as a young man for North Ferry and Jernick Moving and Storage and has many friends here.

He served in the United States Coast Guard from September 2011 to January 2021, then enlisted in the Marine Corps and is currently stationed at the Corps’ Basic School in Virginia as an assistant training officer.

“There are approximately 18.5 million veterans or about 7% of the population,” the lieutenant said. “To put those numbers into a Shelter Island context, there are about 200 veterans that live in our town. No two veterans are alike, but they all were at one point tired, cold, hungry and far from home.”

He told the story of Marine Corps Captain John Yancey, who went through horrific battles in World War II and Korea, and emerged with severe wounds, serving as a sacrifice for others.

“American veterans have always faced a road paved with adversity,” Lt. O’Halloran continued. “At Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778, George Washington outfitted a group of colonial militias, unorganized volunteers and allies from France, Spain, and the Netherlands, into a fighting force ready to face off against Great Britain. Washington prayed for a victory while desperately acquiring coats and uniforms to outfit his men. The survival of our republic hinged on military victories that spring. A year and a half earlier, in April of 1775, on his famous ride, Paul Revere mobilized militiamen from around Boston to fight at Lexington and Concord. If we had lost this battle and our first war, the men and women from Washington’s Army and the New England volunteers would have been hanged. Today, the stakes for our returning veterans are not as great, but the attention, respect and care we owe them is as important.”

He closed by urging young Shelter Islanders to “chase your dreams. If you join the military be proud. It is a chance to be a part of history … Serving in two branches of the armed services, Shelter Island supported and raised me from a ramper at North Ferry to a mover at Jernick. Thank you for taking me in as your own. Shelter Island can and always will be a special place for veterans, and it will always be a special place for me because of all you have done. Remember to appreciate veterans for their contributions today and every day. From a grateful veteran to you, the people of Shelter Island — thank you.”

Ms. Mundy returned and led the gathering in “God Bless America,” before Rev. Stephen Adkinson, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, gave the benediction, speaking of veterans who have made “sacrifices seen and unseen that have woven the fabric of our nation’s history.”

Ceremonies over, people dispersed. Another Veterans Day was celebrated, and the ritual completed, with the goal to keep us together, pointed in the same direction, informing us of who we are.