A color guard makes its way down Main Street during Sag Harbor’s Memorial Day Parade. Michael Heller
By Genevieve Kotz
Main Street in Sag Harbor was packed with onlookers Monday who broke into spontaneous applause as the village’s annual Memorial Day parade, made up of veterans, fire department members and scouts, marched through town to Marine Park, pausing for the laying of wreaths, playing of Taps and rifle salutes at village war monuments along the route.
At the park, hundreds of Sag Harbor residents and visitors gathered to listen to patriotic music performed by the Sag Harbor Community Band and a keynote address by Vietnam veteran James Larocca who spoke about the need to provide better and more timely services for the veterans of the country’s most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Maybe the highest honor we can bestow on the fallen is to help honor the fallen by helping the living,” Mr. Larocca said.
“Nationally, we need to fix the Veterans Administration and fix it now,” he said. “It is not the failing of any one administration, any one president. It is the failing of a community called the United States of America that has a tendency to forget its veterans when the days like today pass.”
Roger King, the Sag Harbor VFW Commander, who preceded Mr. Larocca at the podium, also called for stronger support for veterans, citing the the high rates of homelessness and suicide of veterans who have come home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“The Americans who died in combat acted with the conviction, dedication and passion that they were making America and the world safe and better. They were right, and we need to repay their devotion with a dedication to act to make America better,” he said.
When Mr. King criticized President Obama for failing to do enough to help veterans, his words were met by both applause and a smattering of boos from the crowd.
“But it stings a little when the president of the United States makes more phone calls to ESPN about his college NCAA basketball bracket than helping homeless veterans across the country,” Mr. King said. He also criticized the media for caring more about celebrities’ criminal behavior than the veterans returning home from the wars.
Chaplin Ralph Ficorelli and Marty Knab, commander of the Sag Harbor American Legion Chelberg & Battle Post, also addressed the crowd to honor those who have fallen.
“Americans must remember that freedom isn’t free,” Mr. Knab said. “In fact, it’s only possible because our fallen heroes have paid its high price.”
The speakers also urged people not to forget the true meaning of Memorial Day, which can be lost in the excitement of cookouts and the start of beach season, and urged people to honor both the fallen and surviving men and women even when Memorial Day is over.
As is custom, the parade started at the World War I memorial next to Otter Pond. Despite an overcast sky, a large group of community members, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, members of the Ladies Village Improvement Society and other residents gathered to cheer on the beginning of the parade.
As the marchers made their way down Main Street, crowds of residents stood outside their homes to wave to the veterans as they passed. Main Street itself was packed with a crowd that clapped, cheered and waved as the parade marched on. Many placed their hands over their hearts or saluted as color guards passed by.
The marchers paused at the World War I monument, Civil War monument, in front of the Municipal Building, and at the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge to lay wreaths and fire a three-volley salute in honor of the members of armed services who have been killed or wounded during combat. It ended at Marine Park, in front of the monuments for the Vietnam, Korean and Second World War. The flag was at half-mast with the POW/MIA flag underneath it.
At the Civil War monument, John Capello read Logan’s Orders, a speech originally given by General John A. Logan in 1868 that were the origins of Memorial Day. General Logan had ordered flowers to be placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery as a symbol of unity and healing.
Today, Memorial Day honors the fallen from not only the Civil War but from every war fought by American soldiers.
“We will honor them eternally by being there for them, for their families, for their survivors, for those who are still in need,” Mr. Larocca told the audience at Marine Park. “And we will do it by being better, by doing more, and as we do, we will indeed thank them for their service.”