The stirring strains of “You’re a Grand Old Flag” grew louder as Monday’s Memorial Day parade made its way from Main Street to Hook Mill in East Hampton Village. But the patriotic music, the magnificent spring sunshine, and the seeming entirety of East Hampton Town’s Little League participants and their parents belied the solemnity of the occasion, as veterans and active-duty servicemen and women reminded the assembled multitude that the day is about much more than poolside barbecues and the culmination of a three-day weekend.
“This weekend will not come lightly for many people,” Staff Sgt. Jeanette Caputo, the guest speaker at the ceremony following the parade from Main Street to Hook Mill, told the assembled. Rather, “it is a weekend of heartache” and a stark reminder of the ultimate sacrifice so many Americans have made.
Her remarks, which emphasized the role of women in the armed forces, followed a prayer by the Rev. Ryan Creamer of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in East Hampton and addresses by Bill Mott, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 550 in the village, and Jeff Kiger, commander of the American Legion Post 419 in Amagansett. These, in turn, followed a parade that featured active and veteran members of the armed forces, East Hampton High School’s marching band, members of East Hampton Village’s volunteer ambulance, the fire departments of East Hampton, Springs, and Amagansett, Boy Scouts, the Little Leaguers, and the Star of the East Masonic Lodge.
“Every year on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day weekend reminds us that our freedom isn’t free,” said Mr. Mott, who had multiple tours of duty in Vietnam and whose father and many of his uncles served in World War II. “It is an important time for remembering that the freedom we have and enjoy today is the result of human dedication and sacrifice.” That heroism “will always be captured in our memory,” he said. “On behalf of all the fallen soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, today we honor you and salute you for defending our country and defending our freedom.”
Memorial Day, Mr. Mott said, “is not about honoring veterans; it’s about honoring those who lost their lives. Veterans had the good fortune of coming home.” With that, he recognized one of a very few veterans of World War II residing in the town. Joseph DeCristofaro, who is 97, then stood, to sustained applause.
After Mr. Mott’s introduction of members of the town and village boards, Sergeant Caputo spoke. On Sunday, she said, she had heard two boys talking about the parade, “and one said to the other, ‘My mom takes me here every year, but it’s just not fun!’ And he’s right: There’s nothing fun about today. . . . Our duty to honor the fallen does not come lightly. . . . Patriotism is an oath that we carry in our hearts and a promise that we give to those that gave their lives for us.”
Women, she said, were first sworn in to the military in 1917, as American involvement in World War I neared. “They were met with severe opposition, and an antiwar pamphlet even wrote, ‘Women are meant to stay home and create life. Men are meant to take it,’ ” she said. Around 12,000 women served in noncombat roles during “the Great War,” according to the United Service Organizations, or U.S.O. “Today we honor them,” Sergeant Caputo said.
On Dec. 7, 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise attack against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, 82 Army nurses in three hospitals triaged and treated more than 2,000 wounded servicemen, she said. “They worked around the clock, facing their own fears and insecurities head-on. And today we honor them and the 2,335 soldiers killed that day.” With the attack heralding America’s involvement in World War II, “350,000 women signed on the dotted line,” she said. “Traditionally only filling the role of nurses, women were now filling almost every noncombat position,” and while not in combat roles, that war “claimed the lives of over 500 women. And today we honor them.”
More than 58,000 men “and eight female soldiers, all nurses, were killed in action” during the Vietnam War, Sergeant Caputo said. Around 12,000 women were stationed there during that conflict, 90 percent of them nurses. And although the global war on terrorism has been declared over, deployments continue, she said, recalling comrades including two female colleagues, both Long Island natives, who today lead battalions.
She quoted two men, each from a different time and place, who experienced war. “ ‘Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death,’ ” said the Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu, who lived more than 2,000 years ago. Much closer to home and the present, she recalled Lt. Joseph Theinert, a Shelter Island native and Sag Harbor resident who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. “ ‘There is nothing glorious about war, but I will go to it to keep the people I love away from it.’ ”
A 21-gun salute and “missing man” ceremony followed before a bugler from East Hampton High School’s marching band played taps. The entire band then delivered a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”