Remembering the Sag Harbor Spirit on Memorial Day

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Larry Burns and Jim Eberhardt salute during the playing of the National Anthem during the 2015 Memorial Day celebration in Sag Harbor on Monday. Photography by Michael Heller. 

By Mara Certic

Main Street was peppered with red, white and blue on Monday morning, when Sag Harborites donning stars and stripes took to the sidewalks to applaud the marching veterans, firefighters and scouts in this year’s Memorial Day parade.

Hundreds of East Enders gathered along Main Street on Monday morning, from Otter Pond all the way down to Bay Street, to watch the parade of servicemen and women honoring the nation’s war dead.

“Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. It was not meant to be the unofficial start of summer, or a day for car companies or big stores to have sales to make money,” said Harry “Hap” Wills, an army veteran and the commander of the Sag Harbor Veterans of Foreign War Post 9082, on Monday morning at Marine Park.

“It’s a day to take time to remember those who have died so we can live our lives with the freedoms we so often take for granted,” he said.

The parade, which included veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, began with military precision at 9 a.m. at the World War I Memorial near Otter Pond. Families sat on their porches, and found space to perch on curbs, waving little American flags and applauding the servicemen who paraded past. The Sag Harbor Community band provided the soundtrack for the parade on Main Street, and played a medley of Great American classics in Marine Park.

Marty Knab, commander of the Sag Harbor American Legion Chelberg & Battle Post, acknowledged the veterans, Gold Star families, elected officials and active servicemen in Marine Park, and honored those who have died, before the group was led in the National Anthem by a group of Pierson High School students.

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Dan Mulvihill speaking on Monday morning.

Dan Mulvihill III, this year’s guest speaker, is an army veteran who served in Korea during the Vietnam War. A 1961 graduate of Pierson High School, Mr. Mulvihill has been marching in the village’s parade for so many years, he said, that as a young man he marched with veterans of World War I.

“And two of my friends who are here today—Ed Early and Chuck Lattanzio—are so old that as young men they marched with veterans of the Civil War,” he joked.

A Sag Harbor native with a family history of military service, Mr. Mulvihill took a different approach to his speech and focused on the village’s native exceptionalism.

“The Sag Harbor story is an exceptional story of energy, challenge, that cardinal American virtue of can-do resourcefulness and patriotism. It is a story of a town not overtaken by events, but a proactive town which created history,” he said.

Mr. Mulvihill, speaking in Marine Park to a large audience, noted the different monuments along the parade route, where wreaths were lain, Taps was played and rifles saluted the fallen.

“We started at the World War I monument, then moved to the Civil War statue, honored fire department veterans, and stopped at the bridge now named for the valiant Jordan Haerter,” Mr. Mulvihill said.

“It was, as Lincoln said at Gettysberg, altogether fitting and proper that we do this. But I would now ask you to think of two other Sag Harbor monuments which we also paraded past today. Two monuments, which I think reflect Sag Harbor’s exceptional energy and willingness to take on any challenge,” he said

Those two buildings that Mr. Mulvihill was referring to are the Customs House and the Whaling Museum. Sag Harbor’s rich history as a whaling village and very busy port, he said “was no accident.”

Mr. Mulvihill spoke about some of extraordinary feats accomplished by non-military men of Sag Harbor, including the 1848 excursion of the whaling ship Superior into the Arctic Ocean, which was the first time a whaling vessel had explored those waters. Another Sag Harbor boat, The Manhattan, became the first whaling ship in Japanese waters, whose first mate was Jacob Havens (“What a wonderful Sag Harbor name,” Mr. Mulvihill said.)

Following the height of the whaling industry, came the Civil War. “Again, I don’t think it was an accident that Sag Harbor’s participation was early and enthusiastic,” he said. “When you’ve hunted for whales in the Arctic Ocean, I don’t think you’re going to be intimidated by a bunch of guys from Dixie who want to tear your country apart.”

He continued to discuss the village’s involvement in different wars, adding “No great battleground has been ignored by this town.”

“It takes my breath away to march down Main Street before a large and enthusiastic crowd. Exceptional. And the story will continue. We are a town of great adventurous spirit, of people ready to meet any challenge, of people of unstinting patriotism. A town of energy, and endeavor. We plied the oceans of commerce in the 18th century, hunted for whales in the Pacific in the 19th, and have always poured similar energy and spirit into whatever our country’s military has asked,” Mr. Mulvihill said.

“It is your participation that helps to make Memorial Day in Sag Harbor truly exceptional,” he said to the amassed crowd. “And as my aunt, Dolores Zebrowski, would say if she were here, God bless you.”

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