“Please remember them today,” was the refrain spoken by retired Navy Capt. William T. Brown, who delivered the keynote address following East Hampton’s Memorial Day parade finale on Monday.
After the parade of members of the armed forces, bagpipers, fire trucks, and scouts marched down Main Street to the Hook Mill memorial green, the Rev. Earl Hopson of Calvary Baptist Church gave a rousing invocation and the church’s junior choir urged the 100-plus gathered there to “testify.”
Captain Brown welcomed home local veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This Memorial Day will be personal for you. You are the backbone of the community,” Captain Brown said, going on to remind the crowd that Memorial Day was declared “Decoration Day” to commemorate fallen Union soldiers during the Civil War. Today it is a day to remember United States soldiers, marines, sailors, and coast guardsmen who have lost their lives in wartime.
Captain Brown spoke about Chris Buckley, a Long Islander and Navy helicopter pilot, who was lost in 1997. “Please remember him today,” he said.
He talked about Mike Murphy a Navy SEAL buried in Calverton National Cemetery. The Congressional Medal of Honor recipient gave his life to save his men. A guided missile destroyer will bear his name. “Please remember him today,” he said.
He also talked about serving on the aircraft carrier Okinawa during the Vietnam War. “In my mind’s eye I can see them sitting across the table from me,” he said of two marines who left the ship to face North Vietnamese troops in Quan Tri Province. They never returned. “Please remember them today,” he said.
He spoke about the Nazi saboteurs who invaded Amagansett with explosives 70 years ago on June 12, 1942, and the Coast Guardsman, John Cullen, who found them on the beach and alerted authorities. Mr. Cullen died last year.
He said a book titled “They Came to Kill” by Eugene Rachlis tells the story. Captain Brown brought copies for East Hampton Town Supervor Bill Wilkinson and Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr.
He spoke about the heroism of Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter of Sag Harbor, who died on April 22, 2008, firing on a truck laden with explosives as it approached a barracks filled with marines and Afghan soldiers. His sacrifice saved many lives.
He paid tribute to Army First Lt. Joseph Theinert of Shelter Island, who was killed on June 4, 2010, while investigating an improvised explosive device outside Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Captain Brown read from a speech given by Gen. John Kelly, commanding officer of the Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, in 2008. In his speech General Kelly paid tribute to the bravery of Lance Corporal Haerter and his fellow guard, Cpl. Jonathan Yale.
Captain Brown told the crowd that just four days before giving his speech, General Kelly’s own son, a marine, was killed. “He gave 40 years of his life, and a son.” Captain Brown asked that all the fallen be remembered.
A 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, and the hoisting of the American Flag from its half-staff position ended the event.