Approximately 50 feet in front of Southold American Legion Post 803 is a monument to the Southold men who served in the Civil War. For the history- and date-challenged among our readers, the Civil War was fought over the institution of slavery from 1861 to 1865. The monument, which sits proudly right where Main Road takes a sharp bend to the east, was erected by a group called the Ladies Monument Union in 1887, a time when veterans of that conflict still lived in town.
There are 84 names carved on that monument. It is worth a brief stopover, if you happen to be driving by on errands some day, to take the time to look over the names.
We were thinking about the men whose names appear on the monument Monday morning, Veterans Day, when post commander Charles Sanders played patriotic music and thanked the many veterans of more recent wars who came out on a blustery morning to be recognized for their service. Those veterans also still live in this town, as do others in Riverhead and on Shelter Island. They are here, among us. We can’t forget them. They didn’t ask why — they just signed up, or were drafted, and went.
A similar event was held Monday at Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead, also honoring the legacies of those who unselfishly served their country and remembering the fallen and why they died. Speaking at that ceremony, Riverhead Councilwoman Catherine Kent thanked “those who tirelessly watch over our veterans. Let us remember and honor all of our veterans for what they have done to build a more peaceful future for us and generations to come.”
We bring up the Civil War memorial because, with its close proximity to Monday’s ceremonies, it is important to look back and understand that our towns have sent thousands of young men and women to serve their country in times of conflict. Several hundred from Riverhead and Southold served in World War I, which ended in November 1918 and was celebrated as Armistice Day, which has now become Veterans Day.
Those vets who attended the Riverhead and Southold events sat or stood quietly, not calling attention to themselves. They were there to put their hands over their hearts and to do what must be done, always: remember the names of those who served and died. That includes remembering the names on the Civil War memorial in Southold, and on other memorials to that conflict in Southold and Riverhead towns.
One man who quietly stood off to the side at the Southold event was Joseph St. Pierre, who served in the Marines in Vietnam in 1965. When Mr. Sanders, in his talk, mentioned that so many Vietnam veterans were disrespected when they returned home from that war, Mr. St. Pierre wiped tears from his eyes. Yes, he said, it was true. He saw it himself.
Mr. St. Pierre was not there to talk about himself; he was there in solidarity with fellow veterans, to honor their sacrifice. That is what Veterans Day is about, and should always be.
If you have not seen it, visit this newspaper’s website and watch “The Work We Do” video on Robert Bissonnette. He is a caretaker at Calverton National Cemetery. He’s worked there since 2013, after serving in the Marine Corps for eight years, and is currently in the Navy Reserves. Here is what he says in the video that is so apropos to Veterans Day, particularly on that very hallowed ground in Calverton.
“We’re here, obviously, as people come in to grieve, but we make it nicer, or better, I would say. It’s a beautiful place and we put a lot of hard work into it so that it is that way. I don’t ever like to look at it in a negative way because coming to work every day, outside, in a gorgeous environment with shrines everywhere paying homage to veterans is gratifying.”
Say amen, somebody.