Sag Harbor residents, weekend visitors, elected officials and members of local organizations ranging from Cub Scouts to volunteer firefighters gathered on Monday morning in Sag Harbor’s Marine Park beneath overcast skies and an American flag flown at half-mast to join veterans and Gold Star families in paying tribute to America’s fallen service members.
The mood was one of deep, collective reflection.
Paul Gerecke, the commander of the Chelberg & Battle American Legion in Sag Harbor, presided over ceremonies that included the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and an invocation by legion chaplain Bill Schildknecht to honor “women and men who made the supreme sacrifice” and to “give comfort to their families.”
Mr. Gerecke introduced keynote speaker Lieutenant Commander John E. Schroll, who served in the United States Navy from 1953 to 1977. Mr. Schroll shared personal stories of the loss of fellow service members during combat and spoke warmly of watching the Memorial Day parade in Sag Harbor as a boy.
“I remember sitting on the curb on Main Street with my mother watching the parade go by,” he said. “I think I was about six years old. I’ll never forget the site of the boys coming up the street in uniform. I knew what I wanted to do but I never thought I’d make a career out of it.”
Mr. Schroll retired to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, after an extensive career in the military, but he still considers Sag Harbor home. “I love it here. I come back every chance I get. Four of my five children attended Pierson High School.”
During his remarks, Mr. Gerecke paid specific tribute to local service members most recently lost in combat, including Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, a Sag Harbor native and Pierson High School graduate killed in action while serving as a rifleman with the 1st battalion, 9th Marine Regiment in Ramadi, Iraq, on April 22, 2008. Mr. Gerecke also paid tribute to Army First Lt. Joseph Theinert, a Shelter Island resident killed in action during combat operations in Afghanistan on June 4, 2010, and Army Specialist Orlando Perez, who was killed in action in Baghdad in 2008. Dylan Kaminski, a Pierson High School student who has joined the Army, closed the ceremonies with a reading of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Sag Harbor’s Memorial Day Parade ceremonies are organized annually by the American Legion Chelberg & Battle Post 388, home to the Veterans of Foreign War Post 9082, which includes servicemen and women who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, and the Ladies Auxiliary.
The parade began at Mashashimuet Park and ended at Marine Park on Bay Street, stopping at the World War I Memorial near Otter Pond, the Civil War Monument at Main and Madison Streets and at the Main Street firehouse where volunteer firefighters who have lost their lives while serving the community are honored. The procession also stops at the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge before concluding with speeches at Marine Park for a unique dedication, the placing of a wreath, a round of rifle fire and Taps. Mr. Haerter’s mother, JoAnn Lyles, marched behind a Gold Star Mothers banner with Mr. Perez’s mother, Nicolasa Arevalo, during Monday’s parade.
As the procession moved north along Main Street, veterans marched or were transported on floats, in classic cars or golf carts, met with waves and applause from crowds gathered on porches, lining sidewalks, sitting on curbs and clustered outside storefronts, all honoring those who have fallen in the line of duty.