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Remembering The Fallen

Everybody loves a parade, even when the occasion calls for bittersweet memories of those who served our country but didn’t make it back alive. Memorial Day, May 26, was a perfect day for the parade. It was sunny and the air was perfumed with the promise of summer. Hundreds of people, young and old, lined the streets of Oyster Bay. Waving flags, they sat  with friends and family, eager to see their neighbors  and children proudly marching. Service groups like the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Daughters, Girl Scouts, the Italian-American Club, Knights of Columbus, the Masonic Lodge, Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce, Oyster Bay Lions Club,  US Coast Guard Auxiliary-Eaton’s Neck Division and more displayed their banners.

For the Quentin Roosevelt Post #4 of the American Legion, it was their 95th Memorial Day Parade. The Parade Marshall was Post Commander Reginald Butt. Marchers in the parade included the Veterans of Foreign Wars Oyster Bay Memorial Post #8033, Oyster Bay HS Band and the Oyster Bay  Middle School Band, Boy Scouts from Troop 299 and Troop 253, , the Cub Scouts, the Girl Scouts Brownies and Daisies, and local sports teams. Military vehicles and classic cars were on hand to transport veterans and family members unable to march.

Last but never least, Oyster Bay Fire Company No. 1, Atlantic Steamer Company, and East Norwich Fire Department marched, each group followed by its group’s fire trucks and equipment, including antique vehicles that have stood the test of time. With each group there were volunteers handing out American flags to members of the crowd. There was one impediment to a perfect parade. On the east side of South Street, close to East Main Street, there was an enormous hive of angry buzzing yellowjackets. The hive could easily be seen hanging from a tree branch near the Homestead Restaurant, and the area was cordoned off with yellow police tape. The parade curved to the far side of the street as the front marchers noticed the insects.

The parade continued on East Main Street to Ships Point Lane where the annual waterside observance took place. Reverend Jeffrey Prey presided over the ceremony for those service men and women lost at sea. After the ceremony, the parade made its way to Derby-Hall Bandstand. Big crowds followed. At the bandstand, Butt greeted the crowd and asked that the flag be raised to full mast.

He explained, “It is traditional to raise the flag to half mast from sunrise until noon on Memorial Day. Today we are just a bit early, but I would like to see the flag raised to full mast.”

It was done. Three flags fly at the Derby-Hall Bandstand, topmost is the American flag, then the black and white POW-MIA flag, and finally the Oyster Bay flag. As the flag moved, 12-year-old Conor Cronin of East Norwich played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.

 Commander Butt said, “I’d like to welcome everyone to the Post’s 95th Memorial Day service. We have only one speaker here today, myself.” He read a story which had been told  on CBS in a segment of “On the Road.” The Commander read about Myles Eckert of Waterville, Ohio, who was 4 weeks old when his father, Army Sgt. Andy Eckert, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, May 8, 2005. On Feb. 7, Myles found a $20 bill in the parking lot in Maumme, Ohio. He thought of buying a new video game, but Myles noticed a soldier sitting at the table next to him with his wife and baby grandson. The video game was forgotten. Instead, he got a piece of paper and wrote,  ‘Dear Soldier, My dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this $20 in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service. Myles Eckert, a gold star kid.’

“Americans must remember that freedom is not free. It is only possible because our fallen heroes have paid its high price. We honor all the men and women who’ve lost their lives in service to our country. As Legionnaires, we pledge to preserve our fallen comrades memories. This day is not about beaches, picnics or the races, it is a day to remember. I want to thank everyone who stood up and greeted us today. I’ve been here at this parade for 21 years, and this is the biggest group of participants and the most people out here with us that I have seen in years. Thank you all.”   

Members of the veterans’ groups placed wreaths at the monuments, and USN Captain Stephen T. Treacy saluted the fallen heroes.

After the benediction by Pastors Ray and Diane Melograne of the North Shore Assembly of God Church, Oyster Bay High School students Joshua Tepper and Nathalie Mejias played Taps. The crowd of more than 100 gathered at the Derby-Hall Bandstand slowly dispersed to their homes and family gatherings.