May 24, 2006
A Day To Remember
The nearly nine million soldiers who were killed in World War I, 126,000 of them Americans, were "the unreturning army" in the words of English poet Seigfried Sasson. Since the Civil War, the size of America's unreturned army has grown in terrible bursts and sad, sustained trickles: 620,000 dead in the Civil War, 407,300 fallen in World War II, 54,246 dead in Korea, and 58,000 killed in Vietnam. The number of U.S. servicemen and women who have been killed in Iraq since military operations began in 2003 is 2455.
The "ultimate sacrifice" those soldiers made weighs heavily on the minds of those who are closest to the memory and the reality of the battlefield. It is a phrase that came up again and again in conversations with local veterans and current members of the military about what Memorial Day means to them. "It is pretty simple," said Lt. Col. Kevin Reilly, the operations group commander of 106th Air National Guard in Westhampton. "Memorial Day is an important way to honor those who have served, those who are currently serving, and especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice."
"It's a great, great day to memorialize the veterans who have given their last drop of blood for this country," added Charlie Bass of Westhampton, who served in the Navy during World War II.
According to Chester Morris of Westhampton, a veteran of the 56th Armored Infantry Division during the Second World War, Memorial Day is an opportunity to honor and show "all the old friends and comrades that we fought with that we miss them and that they did a hell of a job."
Memorial Day became a national holiday in 1971, but the day traces its origins back to the Civil War, when it was known as Decoration Day. In 1868, General John Logan decreed that the graves of fallen soldiers should be decorated with flowers. "Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic," he wrote in General Order 11.
Major Emily Desrosier, the wing executive officer of the 106th ANG, believes the war in Iraq helps to keep the true meaning of the day into the spotlight. "I hope that Memorial Day will make people more aware about the lives that are being sacrificed in the here and now, as well as in the past," she said.
The current conflict has provided Desrosier with fresh reminders of war's heavy toll. "I've met a lot of the family members who've recently lost family members and I'm especially thinking of them," she said.
Jim Fogarty, who served as a rifle platoon leader during Vietnam, will speak after the parade in East Quogue on Sunday, and he stressed the importance of thanking members of the military for their service. The day is an opportunity "to remind society in general that everyone can give a little back to servicemen and women," he said.
Senior Master Sergeant Ed Metcalf knows the importance of recognizing and honoring those who have served. The chief of the Fire Department at the 106th ANG said that his father, a World War II veteran, instilled in him the deeper meaning of Memorial Day. "I try to pass it on to my kids that it is more than just a day for barbecues, that it is a day to remember those people who sacrificed their lives to help make America what it is," he said.
Parades And Observances
• East Hampton: The Everit Albert Herter Post No. 550 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will host the annual Memorial Day Parade next Monday. The parade begins at 10:30 a.m., and a service at the Memorial Green will be held at the parade's conclusion. Captain Conlon Carabine, the commanding officer of the India Company, Third Battalion Sixth Marines, recently returned from Iraq, will be the speaker.
• East Quogue: A parade will be held beginning at 1 p.m. on Main Street in East Quogue on Sunday, followed by a ceremony at the firehouse. Jim Fogarty, who served in the Army in Vietnam, will be the speaker. On Monday a ceremony will be held at the war memorial in the Westhampton Cemetery at 11 a.m.
• Hampton Bays: American Legion Hand Aldrich Post 924 is sponsoring a parade from St. Rosalie's Church to Good Ground Cemetery next Monday at 10 a.m. A ceremony will be held at the cemetery at the end of the parade.
• Sag Harbor: On Sunday The Sag Harbor Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9082 will be placing flags at the graves of veterans in Sag Harbor, Noyac, and North Sea. Next Monday a parade down Main Street will begin at 9 a.m. and will stop at all the war memorials along the route. At the end of the parade, Major John Deyermond will be the speaker at a ceremony at the American Legion.
• Southampton: The Commission on Veterans Patriotic Events will hold its Memorial Day Service next Monday at 11 a.m. at Agawam Park. Preceding the service there will be a short parade from the First Presbyterian Church down Jobs Lane to the park. The guest speaker will be Captain James Suhr, a graduate of the Naval Academy, who served on nuclear attack submarines.