Montaukers Mark Memorial Day

Joel Cidlowski, left, and Ken Walles got ready to start the first-ever Montauk Memorial Parade of Flags on Sunday, which drew a good-sized crowd to the hamlet, with lots of cheers and even some tears. Mr. Walles was the parade’s organizer. Janis Hewitt

    While it didn’t draw the crowd of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, the first-ever Montauk Memorial Parade of Flags had a good number of spectators lining the streets along a route that went from the Montauk Post Office down Main Street to the grounds of Second House Museum, where a celebratory party ensued.
    Children and their parents waved small American flags as the participants walked proudly with their own larger flags. A color guard from the Coast Guard and Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles led a contingent of about 100 that included Scouts, politicians, and veterans through the hamlet, which was packed with visitors for the holiday weekend.
    “It was very emotional,” said Ken Walles, an organizer of the event who grew up hearing war stories from his father, an Army veteran. “People were clapping their hands, cheering, and some were crying. It was a great thing to see,” he said.
    It was Mr. Walles who initiated Memorial Day services in Montauk last year, with several flag ceremonies and a respectful retirement burning of old flags. This year, he gathered a committee of about eight veterans to plan the two-day event. Veterans came from other areas of the East End to march and those who couldn’t walk were driven in the parade. Mr. Walles estimated that 400 to 500 people lined the route.
    He initiated the event, which included Monday flag ceremonies and guest speakers, because Americans and the American flag have taken a beating in recent years, he said. “There is an ever increasing urgency to see the United States more united, to rally around the flag, and not as the Tea Party, the Republicans, or the Democrats, but as a people,” he said, adding, “We still have tough times ahead and have to maintain a sense of civility.”
    For the past several years there has been an art show on the downtown green on Memorial Day weekend, much to the dismay of some members of the community who would rather it take place on the west side of Lions Field where it started. Mr. Walles would like to see the fair moved back to the field so that next year, Montauk could celebrate Memorial Day with a three-day event that might include an outdoor museum dedicated to war mementos and an encampment that could be organized by the Scouts, “so people could get a bit of history rather than being sold something.”
    “We have to get back to the fabric of what America is about. We have to bring back the unity,” Mr. Walles said.