Ed Deyermond, a former town and village clerk, former Sag Harbor Village mayor and trustee and longtime fire department volunteer will present a lecture on four firefighters who served, and perished, in World War II, on Sunday, May 23, at 4:30 p.m., at the Sag Harbor Historical Society’s Annie Cooper Boyd House, 174 Main Street in Sag Harbor.
This week, he talked to The Express about how he began researching veterans and their stories to ensure they are remembered and not lost to time.
Q: On Sunday, you will present “The Four Sag Harbor Firemen Who Make the Supreme Sacrifice in World War II,” at the Sag Harbor Historical Society. The talk will focus on Edwin Bill, Edward Olszewski, Arthur Browngardt Jr. and Joseph Dysken.
This is just the latest effort of your to showcase veterans from the Sag Harbor area and in particular the fire department. Can you tell me a bit about how you became interested in exploring this history?
Well, it was just a chance meeting. Kevin O’Brien and I were talking about this issue in the firehouse. He was repainting the walls and rehanging pictures, and we have four pictures of these gentlemen, and we didn’t really know that much about it with the exception of, of course, Arthur Browngardt Jr. Everybody knows his story, but the other gentlemen, not so much. So, we got to thinking that there’s got to be a story here — a very interesting story. We started looking and we took one at a time and we found out that these people, ultimately, they became indicative of the type of people who made Sag Harbor, or really what it was, what it is and what it would become today. Each of these gentlemen were present at some pivotal experience of World War II that went on to shape the world after the war closed. But as any student of history here in Sag Harbor knows — and of course, my wife [Bethany Deyermond] is one of those, as am I now — there’s really a lot of history and it is ongoing as we speak.
You’ve got the Revolutionary War patriots who are getting their gravestones repaired up in the Old Burial Ground. Dave Thommen, several years ago, did a big project at Fort Hill up on High Street [creating a memorial marker to commemorate the Battle of Sag Harbor in 1813]. If you think back, Sag Harbor whalers rescued those stranded Japanese sailors in the Pacific Ocean and returned them to a closed country. So, we don’t want these particular people to be lost to history. I think that we are able to showcase that here.
Q: What piqued your interest in military history?
I have huge family history in the military from my father and his six siblings in World War II. I didn’t have family in the Korean War, but certainly everything after that. Vietnam and all of the Gulf Wars. And, of course, my brother John is a retired general who served all over the globe. I’ve got a lot of history on that side of the family and on Bethany’s side, too — her father and three brothers all served in Europe during World War II. [Son-in-law] Russell served in Afghanistan.
Q: You will be talking about veterans who were also volunteer firefighters in Sag Harbor. As a 40-year member of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department, how have you seen the organization change? And how does being involved in an organization like that shape someone from a civic perspective?
I think people back in the day were quite involved with politics, and how they worked and how they interacted with their families and their jobs — everything was really connected to a real commitment to the village. It was a factory town, and now of course not so much. Now, you have a lot of other people, a lot of newer people coming in that really don’t know the history — and it’s rich here in Sag Harbor — that really don’t know the depth of what these people did. I call them our predecessors and it’s just nice to recognize some of their activities and some of their experiences.
Q: Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little about Joseph Dysken? The USS Helena, his gravesite, was only recently discovered in 2018.
He joined the Navy before the war, was stationed aboard ship, was present during the attack at Pearl Harbor. His ship was docked right across from the battleship row. He was right across from the USS California … We have a picture of his ship taken during the battle and we’ll be showing that. He was present at Pearl Harbor and then went out into the South Pacific and he was a victim of the sinking of his ship there in the Solomon Islands. And that’s quite close to where John Kennedy’s PT boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer.
Q: Also serving in the South Pacific was Arthur Browngardt Jr., who flew The Sag Harbor Express and was stationed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and was killed flying in an air raid.
I have an article written by a military veteran of that era and he seems to think that the raid that they were on was to attack the Japanese held area of Clark Field at the time, because it was a source of kamikaze planes, going out to the fleet. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Browngardt was struck by ground fire and crashed. But it was a very interesting article about how they were adapting their planes to attack ground targets. Now, not really the initial task of a medium sized bomber, like a B25.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Edwin Bill?
Edwin Bill grew up right around the corner from us. I can actually look out and see his house. He was in the Army, the Air Corps at the time, and he was an enlisted man. He joined an elite group of fliers and they were the first unit to actually fly their planes from the mainland over to England. Before that, they were shipped on boats and transports, but he was the first group over there and he flew an experimental plane called a YD-40. He conducted 25 missions, completed his 25 missions and stayed for, I believe, another 15 or 20 on his own accord. So, where you would finish 25 missions, you got to come home, he stayed. He married a woman from Edinburgh, Scotland during this period. And then he was reassigned to Mississippi, he was being trained for a highly secretive, but active and important air rescue mission in the Pacific. And they were doing some night flying and the plane crashed into a mountain and all the crew was killed.
Q: Now the last veteran you are going to be talking about on Sunday is Edward Olszewski, who was killed during the Battle of the Buldge.
A: Eddie Olzewski was, if you look at the pictures, a pretty rough and tumble guy, it looks like from the pictures. I don’t know much about him. He joined the Army, went to a paratrooper school, became a member of the elite 82nd Airborne Division. He participated in four combat drops during World War II, a very unique achievement. He participated in drops in Sicily, Italy, and of course, France. And then of course the Market Garden project, a parachute jump in Belgium and the Netherlands, which did not work out well for the Allies. And he went back and found himself on the north end of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. The report is that he stepped on a mine and was mortally wounded in a small area of Belgium.
Q: As a journalist, I have to say, you’re really good at unearthing these stories and sharing them with the community. Do you see this as something you would like to continue to explore, looking at different Sag Harbor veterans and telling their stories?
Well, yeah. There are a number of other people. One very interesting person is Cyrus Hart, who was the Marine Corps lieutenant who was killed on Iwo Jima. He wasn’t a member of the fire department, but there are other people who certainly have an interesting story.
“The Four Sag Harbor Firemen Who Make the Supreme Sacrifice in World War II” will be presented at the Sag Harbor Historical Society’s Annie Cooper Boyd House on Sunday, May 23, at 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit sagharborhistorical.org.