Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, was the guest speaker at Monday’s 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 40-year-long 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 Krakow, 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 about a friend of his, Gen. Chuck Boyd, who had been a prisoner of war for seven years in Vietnam. General Hayden said, “Imagine what the nation asked of him, and what he gave in response, during all that time. Of course, more recent veterans are out here, veterans of wars in South Asia and Southwest Asia, Gulf war one, Gulf war two, the global war on terrorism.” He then mentioned Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter of Sag Harbor, who died saving his comrades in Ramadi, Iraq. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary bravery. Of Corporal Haerter’s actions he said, “Those of you who are veterans understand that we all freely fight for our country, but we die for our friends.” In regard to Corporal Haerter’s family and the families of other veterans and soldiers, General Hayden said, “We really need to think about the families who supported and endured while men and women went forward into harm’s way.”
General Hayden spoke about how he felt when awarding a Purple Heart to one soldier. “I was at a loss; what do you say awarding the Purple Heart to someone? Congratulations on being wounded? Thanks for taking a bullet for the country? . . . And then it struck me. As heroic as the man I was honoring was, his family was more heroic still.” He then went on to say to all the veterans in the crowd at the Hook Mill green, “You know when you’re in danger, you know when you’re not in danger. . . . The people back home don’t know that and they are on high concern about you from the time you step aboard that aircraft until you come back. So 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 crowd 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 parade was sponsored this year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.