The coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of East Hampton’s Memorial Day observances, including the annual parade, rifle squad ceremonies at town cemeteries, and a Main Beach tribute to those lost at sea.
John Geehreng, the commander of the East Hampton Veterans of Foreign War Post 550, made the announcement on Friday that the VFW in conjunction with the East Hampton American Legion Post 419 had reluctantly decided to cancel the events.
“In these very trying times, when we’re all experiencing dramatic changes in the ways we live our lives due to COVID-19, I sincerely hope this communication finds each of you safe and in good health,” Mr. Geehreng wrote to VFW members. “Nothing is more important. Nothing.”
Mr. Geehreng added the decision was made with “an abundance of caution. The reality is that the majority of our membership is in the high-risk, most-vulnerable age group regarding the virus. We will not put you at risk.”
Elsewhere across the South Fork decisions about whether to hold scaled back ceremonies or cancel them altogether remained up in the air this week, pending guidance from the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In Sag Harbor, David Pharaoh, the commander of the Chelberg & Battle Post 388 of the American Legion, said on Monday that while a final decision had yet to be rendered, it was highly unlikely the restrictions on social gatherings would be eased sufficiently in time for the May 25 observances.
“There will be flags on veterans’ graves, there will be flags in the village, and there will be wreaths laid at each monument,” added Harry “Hap” Wils, the commander of the village’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post. “That I can guarantee.”
“We have to honor them,” Mr. Pharaoh said of the village’s – and the nation’s – war dead, “but this is not going to be like years past.”
That’s also likely to be the case in Southampton Village, where typically veterans, accompanied by the Southampton High School Band, march down Jobs Lane to the war memorial in Agawam Park. Bob Grisnik, who helps organize the annual event, said he would be meeting with Mayor Jesse Warren early this week to make a final decision on whether the ceremony will go forward.
Bill Hughes, the commander of the Hampton Bays Veterans of Foreign Wars post and a member of the hamlet’s American Legion, said decisions had yet to be made regarding ceremonies in Hampton Bays and Westhampton Beach.
“There’s nothing definite yet,” he said.
Mr. Hughes said the groups would work with Boy Scouts to decorate graves with American flags as they have done in the past, although he stressed precautions would be taken to prevent spreading the coronavirus.
Bridgehampton Fire Chief Mark Balserus said he, too, was waiting to hear whether Bridgehampton’s annual ceremony at the war monument on Montauk Highway and Ocean Road would be held.