Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, was this year's guest speaker at the Memorial Day parade and services in East Hampton. Mr. Hayden, a retired Air Force four-star general, began his speech by mentioning his father, who will be 93 in 10 days, and whom he called "the real veteran in the Hayden family."
One of the "real treats" in his military career, General Hayden said, was being able to visit many of the places his father had been deployed during his service. He went on to recount his many experiences overseas in which people had shown "remarkable, subtle gratitude for what Americans had done." He mentioned a small village near Kraków, Poland, where an American aircraft was shot down in 1944 and was later turned into a monument by the people who lived there. The monument reads, in both Polish and English, "Here died 11 American airmen in a battle for Polish freedom."
General Hayden also spoke of Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter of Sag Harbor, who died saving his comrades in Ramadi, Iraq, and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. Of Corporal Haerter's action he said, "Those of you who are veterans understand that we all freely fight for our country, but we die for our friends." In regards to Corporal Haerter's family and the families of other veterans and soldiers, Hayden said that, "We really need to think about the families who supported and endured. . . . We need to memorialize our families as well."
He concluded with an anecdote about Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He told the audience about the plight of many people living in East Germany who were trying to escape, and recounted how many refugees went through Prague and were put on trains in the middle of the night, to be secreted away to West Germany with the promise of freedom. The story goes that, "in one of those trains, as the sun came up, one of the refugees had enough courage to raise the curtain." What he saw when he looked outside, the general said, was a mounted patrol of the seventh armored cavalry regiment of the United States Army. Apparently, he turned to the other people in the train car and said, "Look, there are the Americans; we're free.”
"That equation of American arms with human freedom is what you veterans have created. All of us thank you for that," General Hayden said.
The East Hampton American Legion commander, Fred Overton, also gave a speech. The names of this year's recipients of the American Legion school awards were called, as were the names of the recipients of the Ladies Auxiliary’s school awards. The East Hampton High School band provided music, playing "You're a Grand Old Flag" and, of course, the national anthem.