Sag Harbor Honors Its Fallen Under Sunny Skies

Navy Chief Petty Officer Donald Kelly looks on as the procession stops for a ceremony at the firehouse on Main Street during the 2019 Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony on Monday, 5/27/19. Michael Heller photos

It was small-town America at its sparklingly sunny best on Monday morning when appreciative spectators of every size, shape, color and age gathered along Main Street from Otter Pond to the east foot of the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge to watch Sag Harbor’s annual Memorial Day Parade featuring veterans from Sag Harbor’s American Legion and VFW posts, members of the Sag Harbor fire Department, local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the Pierson High School band.

Starting at the World War I monument at Otter Pond, where Phoebe Miller read the poem, “In Flanders Field,” flowers were placed by the VFW and American Legion, taps were played and three volleys were fired by a veteran rifle squad, the parade marched — to the solemn rhythm of a single drum played by Brad Beyer — past scattered clusters of families on their front lawns, porches and sidewalks before reaching the tighter-packed crowds lining the business district.

Members of the Color Guard during a ceremony at Marine Park.

Wreaths were laid, taps played and three volleys fired at each of next three stops, starting with the Civil War monument at Main and Madison Streets, where Navy veteran John Capello read General Order Number 11 of May 5, 1868. Issued by the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, it designating a day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country …”

At the Main Street firehouse, Fire Department Chaplain Robert Kiselyak offered the fireman’s prayer. After another stop at the foot of the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial bridge, the procession filed into Marine Park, American Legion Commander Paul Gerecke emceed a ceremony that started after the pledge of allegiance with the Pierson High School chorus singing the National Anthem and Legion Chaplain Bill Schildknecht offering an invocation: “May we never take for granted their devotion to liberty,” of veterans living and dead who served in wartime, he said.

“Memorial Day can seem sometimes to be a bit of an awkward holiday,” said Legion Commander Gerecke, “when wishing someone a happy holiday can seem a little bit ill placed. It’s a day set aside to set aside our own pleasures and our agendas and focus on the debt we owe to those who answered their country’s call but didn’t live to enjoy the freedom for which they fought.”

Gold Star father James Theinert as the father of fallen Soldier Lt. Joseph Theinert with Christian Haerter, father of fallen Marine LCpl. Jordan C. Haerter, looks on at Marine Park.

He introduced Sag Harbor’s Gold Star parents in attendance: Nicolasa Arevalo, mother of Army Specialist Orlando Perez; Chris Haerter and JoAnn Lyles, parents of Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter; and James Theinert, father of Army First Lieutenant Joe Theinert. He also recognized Robert Browngardt, younger brother of Army Air Force Lieutenant Arthur Browngardt Jr., who was shot down over the Philippines in 1944.

Hap Wils, commander of the VFW, read the poem “Unless You’ve Been a Soldier,” which includes the line: “We are proud we served our country but remember the ones we lost for the freedoms you have today they paid the awful cost.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, that’s was Memorial Day’s about,” he said.

A few steps from the podium at the waterfront, members of the VFW and Legion auxiliary conducted a brief ceremony for those lost at sea followed by three volleys and taps, after which the Sag Harbor Community Band plaid a medley of patriotic numbers.

Guest Speaker Air Force Sergeant James Laspesa speaks during a ceremony at Marine Park.

The featured speaker, Air Force veteran James Laspesa spoke about the moving experience of having repatriated former POWS at the end of the Vietnam War as “returnees” through the hospital at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines beginning in February, 1973.

“I was very surprised. They were in pretty good shape,” he said. “The second group that came through in March was in even better shape. The third group that came through in April looked like everyone here,” he recalled. “The Vietnam government had been fattening up our returnees to cut down on propaganda.”

“Not was all jubilation and euphoria,” he said. “At our registrar’s office, we had a room that was called ‘Bad News.’ There were files and files of returnees’ family” information, “where something a serious, tragic, had happened … The worst one I saw was one returnee who lost his whole family in a fire. Imagine coming home to that,” he said, his voice thickening.

After Thomas Gabriel, the Legion’s Boys State representative last year who is headed to West Point this year, recited the Gettysburg Address, the Pierson Chorus and the Sag Harbor Community Band performed “God Bless America” to close the ceremony.