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Remembering the Fallen, in New Ways and Old

Wed, 05/29/2024 - 17:55
The East Hampton Library coordinated a new volunteer effort to carry the names of East Hampton's soldiers lost in war.
Durell Godfrey Photos

As East Hamptoners gathered under gray skies to honor and celebrate Memorial Day, people were reminded to take time to recognize the meaning of the holiday.

Participants in the Memorial Day parade marched down Main Street from the Presbyterian Church to the village green by Hook Mill, veterans and servicemen and women leading the way.

This year, among those marching was a group led by Dennis Fabiszak, executive director of the East Hampton Library, carrying 101 signs, each bearing the name of an East Hampton resident who died at war. "This had a whole community organization around it," Mr. Fabiszak said. "We felt that by having a walking memorial it may give some more reflection on the day."

The project was the work of not only library staff but of the entire community, he said, noting the efforts of members of the V.F.W., American Legion, the town historian Hugh King, and students from East Hampton High School. "The more we realized that we needed all these people to pull it together," Mr. Fabiszak said, "the more important it was to know that it was all in one spot and preserved so that it's there for everybody to find."

The group is working on putting together a website with information focused on those 101 East Hampton residents, all of whom have descendants still living here today. To make the website as informative as possible Mr. Fabiszak is encouraging those descendants to come forward with information about the people who died in service. "We are looking to get portraits, biographies, photographs," he said. "We want to build a really nice website with information for all these people. So it's always there and everybody can find it easily."

He hopes that next year, and every year after, this walking memorial will be part of the parade, with luck matching each serviceman's poster to a family member living in East Hampton today.

The service at the Hook Mill green following the parade was led by Jeff Kiger, the East Hampton American Legion Post commander. The Rev. Jon Rodriguez of the East Hampton Presbyterian Church gave an invocation, highlighting the theme of gratitude for those who served and lost their lives. "We thank you for this time in which we can honor them," he said, "and as we do I pray that we would not take it for granted as we consider your children for whom it is not safe to gather, those who do not enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy."

East Hampton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander William Mott spoke to this as well, ending his speech with a short quote on the purpose of the day. "Memorial Day isn't just about honoring veterans," he said, "it is about honoring those who lost their lives. Veterans had the good fortune of coming home."

This year's featured guest speaker was Senior Chief Kyle O'Connell of Coast Guard Station Montauk. Chief O'Connell's words were sharp and poignant, asking the crowd to think beyond barbecues and beach days. "As we made the walk down and we think about Memorial Day," he said, "I hope all of us can think about what it means to us. Why we're all gathered here today. And when we think about it, Memorial Day is the most expensive holiday of the year."

Chief O'Connell asked those gathered to look inside themselves and remember the cost of serving one's country, not just to those who serve but to their families as well. "Today is the day to remember the mothers who never saw their children again," he said. "It's for the fathers who wept in private. It's for the husbands and wives who raised their children alone and it's for those children who only remember them from pictures." 

Senior Chief Kyle O'Connell of the Montauk Coast Guard Station was the keynote speaker.

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