Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton Say ‘Thank You’ to Veterans

Bill Stafford gets a thank-you card from a young student as Sag Harbor's veterans were honored during Morning Program at the Sag Harbor Elementary School on Friday, 11/9/18. Michael Heller photo

A chorus of about 150 voices — those of veterans and civilians, the young and the old, men and women and children — filled Sag Harbor’s American Legion Chelberg-Battle Post 388 with a resounding “Pledge of Allegiance” on Sunday morning, Veterans Day. The collection of patriotic voices soon gave way to one: that of a young Sag Harbor veteran, United States Army Sergeant Max Yardley, who gave the annual keynote address following the Veterans Day parade, the youngest-ever person to do so in Sag Harbor.

Sgt. Yardley, 22, who served in Iraq in 2017 and has been commended multiple times for his service, recalled the particular significance of Sunday’s date: it was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and the creation of Armistice Day as a holiday, the predecessor to Veterans Day.

“America’s veterans have served their country with the belief that democracy and freedom are ideals to be upheld around the world,” he said. “I would like to remind the younger generation of their duty toward their country and to inspire them to uphold the tradition of life, liberty and justice for all. For me, Veterans Day is a time for reflection on our great nation’s storied past and a time to recognize and honor the brave men and women who have served to preserve the freedoms of our future.”

The chorus of voices Sunday recalled similar sounds on Friday at Sag Harbor Elementary School and Thursday at the Bridgehampton School, where the students all paid tribute with patriotic songs, thank-you cards, history facts and breakfast receptions.

Many veterans on Sunday said they were filled with pride and gratitude over the shows of thanks from the community.

“It’s very important. You feel good about it,” said United States Navy Petty Officer, 2nd Class William Schildknecht, the chaplain of the American Legion in Sag Harbor, who served from 1959 to 1962. “I’m glad I served my country. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.”

The veterans parade makes its way down Bay Street to the American Legion during the ceremony honoring Veterans Day 2018 in Sag Harbor on Sunday, 11/11/18. Michael Heller photo

United States Army Captain Jack Brizzi, who served from 1957 to 1965, comes from a family of veterans, including a father who served in World War II. “I remember as a young kid, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, my mother cried,” he said. “Since that time, Veterans Day has always been special — this day and Memorial Day.”

In particular, three veterans of the Marine Corps — Ben McMahon, Dan McMahon and Pat McMahon, brothers in a Sag Harbor family where military service is a long tradition — said Veterans Day ceremonies are especially important in small towns.

“I was able to see a lot of these parades and ceremonies growing up,” said Ben McMahon, a sergeant in the Marines who enlisted five years ago and continues to serve. “I take a couple of days’ leave to be able to come back and be a part of it. I get a sense of family and community by doing things like this.”

The last time the whole McMahon clan was together was Sgt. Ben McMahon’s graduation from Pierson High School in 2013. He is the youngest of 11 siblings, seven of whom have served or are still serving in the military.

Lance Corporal Dan McMahon, 25, said Veterans Day is about paying homage to the generations before him, as well as feeling the community’s warmth himself. His was the last combat unit to leave Afghanistan under President Barack Obama.

“Nothing warms my heart more than when a little kid comes up to me and says, ‘Thank you for your service,’” he said.

Corporal Pat McMahon, 27, who has been stationed in Japan, Thailand, South Korea and the Philippines, said Veterans Day is “a good time for reflection.”

“The rest of the year, no one knows you’re in the military unless they know you,” he said. “You get to put on your uniform and feel like you’re part of that brotherhood.”

At the American Legion on Sunday, Melissa Scarlato’s children, six-year-old Xavier and two-year-old Gianna, honored their family’s active-duty service member in their own way. They would not leave the side of their aunt, United States Navy Petty Officer First Class Cheryl Scarlato, who has served two deployments overseas,is stationed in Norfolk, Virginia and was back in Sag Harbor on leave.

“She’s sacrificed a lot being away,” Ms. Scarlato said of her sister. “It’s hard, though. They miss her a lot.”

Petty Officer Scarlato said she likes her job — she sees herself with a long career in the Navy — and that Veterans Day reminds her why she serves.

“On Friday, at the elementary school, there was a World War II veteran speaking to a fifth-grade class,” she said. “It was pretty humbling to listen to.”

At the Bridgehampton School on Thursday, local veterans took turns answering students’ questions. “Were you scared?” one third-grader asked.

“The answer is yes for virtually anyone who has been in a combat zone,” said James Lubetkin, a member of the Everit Albert Herter Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 550 in East Hampton, who served in Vietnam. “The other side of it is you’re surrounded by people who you have a lot of confidence in, which helps enormously because those are really your brothers who are looking out for you, and you’re looking out for them.”

As the students clapped for the veterans, Mr. Lubetkin returned a compliment: “This is my third year here and you have the best band I have ever heard. They are absolutely terrific.”

In Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor, guests and speakers recalled the words of the late President John F. Kennedy Jr.

Mr. Lubetkin explained to Bridgehampton students the concept of the “Kennedy generation.”

“When I was in college, in my freshman year, Kennedy was elected president, and in my senior year, sadly, he was assassinated,” Mr. Lubetkin said. “I think all of us remember one thing. In his inaugural address, he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ And every one of us at this table probably had an option to find a way to avoid service, but chose not to avoid service. There were good times, there were bad times, but for each of us it was probably the most memorable one year or two years in our lives. It really did shape us forever.”

At the American Legion on Sunday, Sgt. Yardley concluded with another of President Kennedy’s oft-quoted sentiments.

“As we express our gratitude ,we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

A Bridgehampton School student reads a thank-you letter to veterans on Thursday, November 8. Christine Sampson photo