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A Day of Remembrance in Sag Harbor

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A color guard makes its way down Main Street during Sag Harbor’s Memorial Day Parade. Michael Heller

By Genevieve Kotz

Main Street in Sag Harbor was packed with onlookers  Monday who broke into spontaneous applause as the village’s annual Memorial Day parade, made up of veterans, fire department members and scouts, marched through town to Marine Park, pausing for the laying of wreaths, playing of Taps and rifle salutes at village war monuments along the route.

At the park, hundreds of Sag Harbor residents and visitors gathered to listen to patriotic music performed by the Sag Harbor Community Band and a keynote address by Vietnam veteran James Larocca who spoke about the need to provide better and more timely services for the veterans of the country’s most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Maybe the highest honor we can bestow on the fallen is to help honor the fallen by helping the living,” Mr. Larocca said.

“Nationally, we need to fix the Veterans Administration and fix it now,” he said. “It is not the failing of any one administration, any one president. It is the failing of a community called the United States of America that has a tendency to forget its veterans when the days like today pass.”

Roger King, the Sag Harbor VFW Commander, who preceded Mr. Larocca at the podium, also called for stronger support for veterans, citing the the high rates of homelessness and suicide of veterans who have come home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“The Americans who died in combat acted with the conviction, dedication and passion that they were making America and the world safe and better. They were right, and we need to repay their devotion with a dedication to act to make America better,” he said.

When Mr. King criticized President Obama for failing to do enough to help veterans, his words were met by both applause and a smattering of boos from the crowd.

“But it stings a little when the president of the United States makes more phone calls to ESPN about his college NCAA basketball bracket than helping homeless veterans across the country,” Mr. King said. He also criticized the media for caring more about celebrities’ criminal behavior than the veterans returning home from the wars.

Chaplin Ralph Ficorelli and Marty Knab, commander of the Sag Harbor American Legion Chelberg & Battle Post, also addressed the crowd to honor those who have fallen.

“Americans must remember that freedom isn’t free,” Mr. Knab said. “In fact, it’s only possible because our fallen heroes have paid its high price.”

The speakers also urged people not to forget the true meaning of Memorial Day, which can be lost in the excitement of cookouts and the start of beach season, and urged people to honor both the fallen and surviving men and women even when Memorial Day is over.

As is custom, the parade started at the World War I memorial next to Otter Pond. Despite an overcast sky, a large group of community members, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, members of the Ladies Village Improvement Society and other residents gathered to cheer on the beginning of the parade.

As the marchers made their way down Main Street, crowds of residents stood outside their homes to wave to the veterans as they passed. Main Street itself was packed with a crowd that clapped, cheered and waved as the parade marched on. Many placed their hands over their hearts or saluted as color guards passed by.

The marchers paused at the World War I monument, Civil War monument, in front of the Municipal Building, and at the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge to lay wreaths and fire a three-volley salute in honor of the members of armed services who have been killed or wounded during combat. It ended at Marine Park, in front of the monuments for the Vietnam, Korean and Second World War. The flag was at half-mast with the POW/MIA flag underneath it.

At the Civil War monument, John Capello read Logan’s Orders, a speech originally given by General John A. Logan in 1868 that were the origins of Memorial Day. General Logan had ordered flowers to be placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery as a symbol of unity and healing.

Today, Memorial Day honors the fallen from not only the Civil War but from every war fought by American soldiers.

“We will honor them eternally by being there for them, for their families, for their survivors, for those who are still in need,” Mr. Larocca told the audience at Marine Park. “And we will do it by being better, by doing more, and as we do, we will indeed thank them for their service.”

 

Military Women Discuss Their Changing Role

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Chief Sherrie Huppert-Grassie, Lisa D'Agostino, Master Sergeant Cheran Cambridge and Susan Soto, the new commander of Southampton's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post

Chief Sherrie Huppert-Grassie, Lisa D’Agostino, Master Sergeant Cheran Cambridge and Susan Soto, the new commander of Southampton’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post

By Tessa Raebeck

In January 2013, then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the military’s official ban on women in combat, following receipt of a letter from General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stating that the chiefs were in agreement that “the time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.”

“That’s suggesting that somehow there are some [barriers] that were still necessary. I don’t know about that,” Vietnam War veteran Susan Wilson said Tuesday. Wilson was joined by other female military personnel at a panel discussion, “The Changing Role of Women in the Military: Vietnam to Gulf War and Beyond,” hosted by the League of Women Voters at the Hampton Bays Public Library.

Susan Wilson

Susan Wilson

Wilson, a member of the league, opened the evening with stories of her experience serving in WAVES, the U.S. Naval Women’s Reserve, as a non-deployed member of the Navy during the Vietnam War.

“It was not a popular war,” she said. “Women were not welcome.” Wilson served as an administrative assistant, one of seven women in a squadron of 500 men. The waves were not permitted to wear nail polish or let their hair grow past their collars, yet they were required to wear lipstick at all times.

“I hated lipstick so for me that was not fun to do, but it was important and if you were going to get through boot camp, you were going to do that,” Wilson recalled. When she wanted to get married, she had to ask her commanding officer for permission. When she got pregnant, she was dismissed from the military. Military females at the time were not permitted to have dependents under the age of 18.

“The equality that comes from that uniform was not as complete as it is for a man. Women enjoyed equal pay, equal right to be subject to the military code of justice,” she told the crowd. “But equal job and advance opportunities, not so much.”

“As war changed and weapons changed over the years with more modern weaponry – scud missiles and roadside bombs – battle lines blurred and suddenly every soldier – male and female – was at risk,” Wilson said, adding that over 40,000 women served in the 1991 Gulf War, the first time men and women served in integrated units within a war zone. In 1994, the Pentagon reversed the progress of military women, instituting a rule restricting them from serving in combat roles, although they continued to do so unofficially.

“Just because they were not permitted to serve in combat zones, didn’t mean they weren’t there and they weren’t doing their jobs,” said Wilson. “We were there, we as a sisterhood were there.”

Wilson said Panetta’s lift of the ban was a welcome recognition of that work, although “it took so long for that to happen.”

While admitting there’s still a long ways to go, the panel was optimistic that women in the military have made significant strides toward equal standing, especially in the last decade.

Lisa D'Agostino

Lisa D’Agostino

Lisa D’Agostino, Family Readiness Program Manager for the 106th Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard, is a 106th Rescue Airman, as well as a military spouse and mother.

“When I first started in 2005,” D’Agostino said Tuesday, “to where we are now with family programs and the importance of families – having to take care of the family so our military men and women can do the job they have to do – has changed tremendously in a positive way.”

Also stationed with the 106 at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, Chief Sherri Huppert-Grassie has been deployed overseas four times since joining the military in 1992.

“I love when we get to go away and do our job because that’s what we do,” she said. “We’re focused on just the job.”

In 2000, Huppert-Grassie went on her first deployment to Turkey. In 2001, she was deployed to Kuwait and in 2003 she served in Iraq.

While in Iraq, “the guys” she served with were worried about Huppert-Grassie coming along, voicing concern for her wellbeing. “It’s touching, but you still want to do what your job is. It doesn’t matter because I’m going with them,” she said. “We’re just doing our job out there.”

“Finally, in 2009 I deployed again and that was to Afghanistan,” said Huppert-Grassie. Her husband, who is also in the military, supported her on the home front during her deployments. If they were both deployed, her mother watched over their daughter. Huppert-Grassie’s experience is a far cry from being dismissed for being pregnant, as Wilson was.

“As females, I believe that I have a lot of passionate emotion and I try to not let it get the best of me because I want to be that leader,” she said. “I love being in the military.”

Master Sergeant Cheran Cambridge has served as a medical service administrator in the military for 12 years. In 2010, Cambridge was deployed to Saudi Arabia, where she worked as part of a five-person team in a blood transshipment center, supplying blood and plasma to medical units. She attributes her militancy to her Caribbean grandmother.

“Me being in boot camp didn’t really teach me anything, cause I learned from my grandmother,” she said. “That’s where I learned my public service from.”

Susan Soto

Susan Soto

As the newly appointed commander of Southampton’s Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7009, Susan Soto is the first female and the first Native American to hold the position. Soto’s father was a World War II veteran, her uncle was a veteran of the Korean War and her brother was in the Navy. Growing up on the stories of their deployments, Soto “needed to find a way to feed my thirst for travel,” so she joined the military in 1982.

Soto was deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Storm in August of 1990, one of five women in the intelligence unit there.

“The guys were great, the Navy Seals,” she recalled. “This was a time when women were deploying, but the media was putting out a lot of negative words on women deploying to Desert Storm…To me, it was no question for me to go and be deployed. I had no problem with it, it was my job, that was what I went into the military to do, to support my country.”

Sag Harbor Heroes Honored During Veterans Day Celebrations

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By Tessa Raebeck; photography by Michael Heller

In annual Veterans Day celebrations this week, Sag Harbor residents recognized that honoring village veterans is a year round duty, not a daylong event. Whether by visiting a monument, putting up a plaque or rubbing a gravestone, veterans and community members work to celebrate our heroes throughout the year, and those efforts were officially recognized with commemorative events Monday.

From Cub Scouts to World War II veterans, troops in uniform kicked off the holiday at the annual Veterans Day Parade through Sag Harbor Village Monday morning. After the parade, government officials and honored servicemen gathered outside the American Legion Chelberg and Battle Post 388 on Bay Street. Following speeches, about 40 residents headed over to the Ferry Road Cemetery in North Haven to hear village historian Joe Zaykowski present a lecture on the cemetery restoration and the lives of veterans resting there.

VFW Commander Roger King addresses the crowd at the American Legion

VFW Commander Roger King addresses the crowd at the American Legion.

At the American Legion Hall, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9082 Commander Roger King, who served two terms in Iraq, spoke of veterans’ “sacrifice for the common good,” and the symbolic significance of this year’s restoration of the federal holiday to November 11.

Veterans Day is always observed on November 11; however, in 2012, for example, the official federal holiday fell on November 12 because it was a Monday. King recognized the significance of the holiday returning to November 11 as it coincides with Armistice Day, which marks the settlement signed at the end of World War I on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

Post Commander Marty Knab said the day’s events were intended not only to thank those who fought in battle, but also to thank and honor all who have served honorably in the military in any capacity, be it wartime or peacetime. While recognizing the ultimate sacrifice of those killed in battle, Knab hoped to also underscore the fact that all who served have made huge sacrifices for their country.

“Not all veterans have seen war,” Knab told the crowd. “But a common bond that they share is an oath in which they express their willingness to die defending this nation. Perhaps most significant in preserving our way of life are the battles that America does not have to fight, because those who wish us harm slink away in fear of the Coast Guard cutter, the Navy aircraft carrier, the Air Force Fighter Squadron, or the Army soldier on patrol.”

“Our country finds these men and women in the many small communities around our country, like our own Village of Sag Harbor,” he continued.

World War II Veteran Robert Riskin speaks in front of the American Legion

World War II Veteran Robert Riskin speaks in front of the American Legion.

Local writer and World War II veteran Robert Riskin, whose officer encouraged him to pursue a writing career, spoke of his visit in September to the World War II monument in Washington, D.C. Riskin’s trip was facilitated by the Honor Flight Network, an organization that honors veterans by transporting them to visit their memorials.

“I was not very excited about going,” admitted Riskin. “And then I thought, ‘Well, it’s free…so what the hell? I’ll try it.’”

Accompanied by Knab, Riskin enjoyed a motorcycle escort, bagpipe serenade and a welcoming reception from Naval Academy plebes on the daylong trip to Washington.

“I almost broke down, it was just such an incredible feeling of love,” he said, adding, “the memorial itself is just about one of the most fantastic things you’ll ever see … the emotions that it brings up are very, very strong.”

After the veterans’ speeches, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. presented a proclamation, “the state’s highest honor,” he noted, to Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride and dockmaster David Thommen commemorating Sag Harbor’s heroic moment in the War of 1812. Two hundred years ago in July 1813, British troops stationed off the Long Island coast attempted to invade and pillage the small seaside village of Sag Harbor, as they had done to countless towns across the island. Greeted by a group of residents and militiamen on shore, the British quickly retreated, recognizing that whatever goods they could plunder were not worth a battle against the spirited community.

New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Justice Julia Schiavoni, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride and Sag Harbor Village Board Trustee Ed Deyermond honored David Thommen (second from right) for his work restoring the monument honoring the site of a Revolutionary War fort in Sag Harbor

Local officials honor Village Dockmaster David Thommen (second from right).

“We repelled the British. They never returned again until the British invasion of 1964,” Thiele joked, referring to The Beatles.

The assemblyman spoke of his own childhood playing around the old fort on High Street, but he never knew the story behind it.

“We all know it today and it’s because of the single-handed volunteer efforts of David Thommen,” said Thiele of the village dockmaster, who revitalized the fort – and the community’s knowledge of its own heroism — by dedicating a plaque and raising a flag there last July.

“This is about the veterans from the first militias in 1620 to the returning soldiers today,” said Thommen, accepting the proclamation.

Following the ceremony, North Haven Village Historian Joe Zaykowski gave a presentation to a crowd at the Ferry Road Cemetery on Route 114. Zaykowski successfully restored the gravestones there and, in doing so, unearthed the stories of some of North Haven’s earliest residents.

North Haven Village Historian Joe Zaykowski

North Haven Village Historian Joe Zaykowski at the grave of Revolutionary War Veteran John Payne, Sr.

Zaykowski spoke of the life and lineage of John Payne, Sr., a veteran of both the colonial French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, who died 200 years ago in November 1813 and was laid to rest on Ferry Road. Payne’s gravestone was ineligible, cracked and scattered until Zaykowski’s restoration.

Zaykowski spoke extensively on the history of North Haven, with specific knowledge of lineages, burial techniques and even houses — several of which remain in the village today. His brother-in-law, Philip Reynolds, played period music from the Revolutionary War era on his saxophone.

In 1781, Payne received nine pounds, 19 shillings and one penny for his service in the Revolutionary War, according to Zaykowski.

“I cannot tell you that John Payne was a so-called war hero,” Zaykowski, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War, told the crowd. “That’s not important; He served his country, served it well I’m sure.”

In attendance to hear Zaykowski’s talk was Alexandra Binder, who lives on Shelter Island with her fiancé Beau Payne, a direct descendant of John Payne. Eager to learn more of her new family’s extensive local history, Binder was ecstatic to have the aid of Zaykowski, who has traced the Payne’s lineage all the way back to England prior to the colonization of America.

Veterans Day Events Planned in Sag Harbor

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By Tessa Raebeck; photography by Michael Heller

Two hundred years after British troops attempted unsuccessfully to invade the small coastal village during the War of 1812, Sag Harbor will celebrate those who have defended it ever since with several events around town this Veterans Day.

At 9 a.m. Monday, November 11, the annual Veterans Day Parade will head from the Civil War Monument down Main Street and onto Bay Street, with an observance at the American Legion Hall immediately following.

The featured speakers, Roger King, Marty Knab and Robert Riskin, range in age from 28 to 86, but, having served in our armed services, they share an experience few can understand.

After graduating from Pierson High School, King served in the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2009, during which he completed two combat tours in Iraq. In 2012, he became the youngest commander ever appointed to lead Sag Harbor’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9082.

Marty Knab is the Commander of the American Legion Chelberg and Battle Post 388 and an organizer of the Veterans Day commemorations. He served for 20 years in the Coast Guard.

The final veteran speaker is Robert Riskin, 86, who was drafted to World War II when he was 18 and completed basic training, although he was fortunate enough not to see combat firsthand.

Following the speakers, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. will present a proclamation to Mayor Brian Gilbride and Dockmaster David Thommen honoring Sag Harbor’s heroic moment in the War of 1812 in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the battle that took place in Sag Harbor, which was celebrated this July.

According to an official report written by General Abraham Rose, five barges carrying British troops landed in Sag Harbor on July 11, 1813. The barges were positioned off Long Island’s coast with the intent of blocking trade coming out of New York City. Lacking supplies on the stationed barges, the British troops would routinely invade, pillage and burn villages across Long Island.

When the British approached Sag Harbor’s shore, according to General Rose, they were greeted with “a reception so warm and spirited from our militia that they abandoned the operation and retreated.”

Due to the heroism of its residents, Sag Harbor was spared the fate endured by the island’s other villages.

Also on Monday, a different 200-year anniversary will be commemorated. North Haven Village historian and Vietnam veteran Joe Zaykowski will celebrate his restoration of the Ferry Road Cemetery, and the anniversary on which John Payne, Sr. was laid to rest in it.

A veteran of both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, Payne was a resident yeoman (gentleman farmer) in North Haven. His father was among the first settlers of North Haven and his grandson built the hamlet’s first bridge.

“[Payne’s] stone was broken in half and it was quite illegible,” said Zaykowski, adding that due to his restoration, the cemetery is “quite spiffy now.”

Starting at 10 a.m., Zaykowski will give a brief talk on Payne, as well as his connections to those buried around him. Refreshments will be served and period music from the Revolutionary War days will be played.

Payne died on November 1, 1813, so “the timing is really awesome,” said Zaykowski, who was born and raised in Sag Harbor and co-authored a book on the early history of North Haven with his mother, Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski.

The celebration will also honor two other North Haven veterans from the period: Joseph Trowel, who was captured and held prisoner during the Revolutionary War, and Constance Havens II, who, along with Payne, is one of only two veterans from the hamlet to fight in both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War.

“I know the Payne family history and the Trowels and Havens as well as I do my own genealogy,” said Zaykowski, who first became interested in Payne while working on the cemetery restoration.

“Just discovering who’s stone that was over there that was so neglected and forgotten,” he explained, “I thought it would be nice to bring that to the surface again. Being a veteran myself, I thought that would be cool.”

Celebrating Memorial Day in Sag Harbor

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By Andrew Rudansky

The air remained uncharacteristically still at Marine Park this Monday as several hundred people converged around the World War II monument in silence. 

The Memorial Day Parade procession that strode down Main Street and made its way down Bay Street had arrived at the park for the final ceremony. In past years the parade usually terminates in front of the American Legion headquarters on Bay Street, however this year the route was cut short, ending instead on the more spacious and picturesque grounds of Marine Park.

That wasn’t the only change to the Memorial Day Parade this year, a fourth stop was added to the parade route at the recently renamed Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge. 

At the bridge, wreaths were placed near the obelisk memorial of Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter where the firing squad offered a salute.

Local veteran Bruce Winchell said of the parade, “we try to touch all basis, I think we did pretty much our jobs today…it came out quite well.”

 

Veterans from five wars and several different conflicts stood and sat solemnly as the procession of speeches was given under a massive flag flying at half mast. 

Each veteran was dressed in his or her own military uniforms creating a patchwork of white, blue, green and black garb. The Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Fighters showed up in force all sporting their sharp blue uniforms.

One veteran said, “It was very inspiring, brought me back to the days when I was in Vietnam, to see all the veterans standing around, it was very, very heart throbbing.”

Other community organizations that showed up to honor the veterans included the local Boy and Girl Scout troops, the Pierson school band and several local politicians.   

Gold Star mothers JoAnn Lyles, mother of Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, and Nicolasa Arevalo, mother of SPC Orlando A. Perez, sat somberly in the front row for the ceremony. Arevalo cradled a framed picture of her son in her arms. The two Gold Star Mothers were mentioned several times throughout the speeches that lasted a little more than an hour.  

Orators extolled the volunteer emergency organizations, the veterans in attendance and the brave men and women who lost their lives serving their country.

A roll call of the recently deceased was read aloud, a short prayer led by the American Legion Chaplain followed this.

The Chaplain asked the people in attendance to, “honor the memories of those brave soldiers, sailors, marines, marine merchants, airmen who gave us the supreme sacrifice, so we may experience freedom in a country that is free.”

One of the speakers this Memorial Day reminded the crowd that today was not just a day for veterans, “There are five other young men from Sag Harbor serving in the armed forces at this time.”

After the speeches ended and the service was over the throngs of spectators and parade participants filtered out of the park and into the 70-degree heat of the day.

Winchell wanted to emphasize that the day is meant to honor the departed, “it’s not a veterans day, today is the day for the men who gave their lives.”

 

 

 

George Boziwick

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The World War II Navy man and this year’s Memorial Day guest speaker, on the work of veterans organizations, the meaning of the day and remembering our veterans.

A little background. When and where did you serve during World War II?

I joined the Navy in 1940 and went to radio school in Noroton, Connecticut. I served in Panama with the Navy from July 1941 to December 1944, and then came back to the states and served as a radio technician at NAMU Johnsville, Penn. I was discharged in September 1945. I was at Naval Air Station Cocosolo in the canal zone where I was an Aviation Radio Technician 1st Class, in charge of communications, on the base itself, and taking care of aircraft coming in.

 

What will you be speaking about on Monday?

I’ll be speaking about Memorial Day, just about Memorial Day. Its beginnings and what we’re supposed to be doing.

 

Memorial Day recognizes the sacrifices — especially the ultimate sacrifice — made by our service men and women. What should Memorial Day mean to the people you will be speaking to?

It’s a day of memory and  mourning. We should be visiting the graves of not only the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice, but also all those who served during the war periods.

 

You were involved last year in helping to get the new plaque that lists all the Sag Harbor veterans from World War II for the memorial at Marine Park. How important was that for you to accomplish?

It was most important that all these people be recognized because of their desire to serve their country. It took us about a year-and-a-half to get all 446 names for the plaque.

 

Every year there are fewer World War II veterans with us.

That’s for sure.

 

What’s the best way to keep the memory of their contributions alive?

Pray for them, visit their graves.

 

How have you seen the nature of conflicts change since the time you served?

I think they’ve changed more technically than anything else. World War II was the infancy of radar and LORAN. Today we’ve got guided missiles, and unmanned, drone aircraft.

 

The ceremony on Memorial Day is sponsored by the Sag Harbor Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. How can our military service organizations best serve their membership?

We do serve our members if they become ill, or needy. And, speaking for the Legion, we do a great deal with donations and scholarships. We sponsor six scholarships at Pierson every year at graduation, totaling 14,500. Of course we donate to the food pantry and other organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project and the Cub Scouts. This year we’ll be sponsoring two boys to Boy’s State.

 

What does Memorial Day mean to you?

It means a day of remembering the guys and girls of Sag Harbor who served in WW II.