Service. Patriotism. Camaraderie. This is what the American Legion stands for as the nation’s largest veterans service organization. When the members of Chelberg and Battle Post 388 of Sag Harbor put on their uniforms to march in the annual Memorial Day parade, it recalls a sense of being that some say has been lost over the years. It is profoundly patriotic, and a moment to remember and honor those who have served their country and lost their lives in the name of freedom.
Veterans will make their way down Main Street from the World War I Monument at Otter Pond, stopping to honor each of the Village’s war monuments and lay wreaths, finishing in Marine Park. The Legion’s commander Paul Gerecke, who assumed the post after last year’s parade, shares the route remains the same, though it was a different when he was a kid.
“The parade used to start at Marine Park and go to Otter Pond without stopping, then turn around and march back,” Mr. Gerecke, whose father and grandfather served in the United States Navy, recalls. “That’s when the vets were young.”
Mr. Gerecke, a Sag Harbor native, enlisted in the United States Coast Guard in 1983, retiring as a full commander in 2013. He joined the legion in 1990 while still an active service member. Post 388 has 132 members and will absorb the Bridgehampton American Legion’s seven members when it closes later this year. At 56, he is one of the post’s youngest members.
“The Legion has been in my DNA since I was a little kid,” Gerecke says, recalling his father in a Navy suit in parades and he in his sailor suit as a child. “Sooner or later I would get drawn in and handed the top job. I always thought I would do this one day.”
On Monday, Mr. Gerecke will speak briefly along with Sag Harbor’s VFW Commander of Post 9082 Harry “Hap” Wils before introducing this year’s keynote speaker. John E. “Jack” Schroll, who will celebrate a birthday at age 83 the day before the parade, served in the United States Navy from 1953 to 1977 and has his fair share of stories to tell.
“I’ve been in the Legion for 42 or 43 years,” Mr. Schroll, who retired as a Lieutenant Commander, now lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, said. “I’ve kept my membership because Sag Harbor is home. It varies from post to post, but the Legion provides a lot of scholarships, emphasizes Americanism, and teaches kids something about the country which many have no idea of today.”
Mr. Schroll enlisted when he lost a football scholarship to Fordham University after they had dropped the sport. Having no money for college, he decided to take advantage of the G.I. bill. After being commissioned as an Ensign in the Medical Service Corps, he served in major Naval Medical Centers and Marine Corps commands, and was stationed in Vietnam at the Naval Support Activity in Da Nang.
Recalling hospital operating rooms being overwhelmed with injured soldiers and causalities, Mr. Schroll says there were times when groups of surgeons operated three days straight, 24 hours per day. “Would I do it again? Yes,” he says of his time in the service. “The beauty of it was that everybody pulled together. If you felt like you made an impact on the operating decisions of the day you felt good about it.”
The first movie Mr. Schroll saw when he came home was MASH. He found it hysterical to the point fellow moviegoers hushed him. He recalls standing up and laughing, telling people to enjoy the film as it was exactly what things were like. “You had to keep a sense of humor over there,” he says with a laugh again. “Did the experience impact me? Yes. When you see too much gore it’s bound to have an effect on you. Luckily, I had a good wife. If I started stirring and she put her arm around me, I was fine.”
There is much more to Mr. Schroll’s story. Proud of what the Legion has done over the last decade, his speech after the parade will focus on World War II through the eyes of a seven-year-old. Not wanting to give too much away, he says it had an impact on him as those soldiers were in it for the long run, many never coming back home.
Services and Ceremonies
The East Hampton Veterans of Foreign Wars services will take place on Monday, May 28, with a ceremony at Main Beach in East Hampton at 9 a.m., followed by a 10:15 a.m. parade on Main Street. A service will follow the parade and will be held on the village green.
A Memorial Day Parade, presented by the Sag Harbor American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, begins at 9 a.m. on Main Street in Sag Harbor on Monday, May 28, and will end at Marine Park on Bay Street where Lieutenant Commander John E. Schroll from the United States Navy will deliver the annual Memorial Day address. Light refreshments will be available after at the American Legion on Bay Street.
The Shelter Island American Legion and Lions Club will host its annual Memorial Day services beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, May 28, on Bridge Street with the Lost Sailor ceremony. That will be followed by a parade at 10 a.m., which is followed by the Annual Memorial Day family picnic at the American Legion hall.
The Commission on Veterans Patriotic Events will hold its Memorial Day Service on Monday, May 28, at 11 a.m. in Agawam Park in Southampton. Preceding the service, there will be a sort parade from the First Presbyterian Church, down Jobs Lane, to the park. All veterans are invited to participate and should be in the church parking lot by 10:15 a.m. Cars will be provided for those who cannot march. An invocation and benediction will be given by Pastor Michael Smith from the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church.
The guest speaker will be Mayor Michael Irving. Mayor Irving is a third generation resident of the Village of Southampton and was elected to the position of village trustee in 2012 before being elected in 2017 as mayor.