Editorial: Across the North Fork, crowds came out to honor our war dead

Memorial Day celebrations are among the best days on the calendar as we head into summer. Fourth of July is great, too, but Memorial Day is different. On July 4, we happily celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence with fireworks; on Memorial Day we solemnly honor America’s war dead. There is no other American holiday like it.

The themes at these annual celebrations are the same: remember and honor those who went off to war, many of whom never returned. Each town on the North Fork celebrated this Memorial Day. Flags were planted across the wide, green expanse of Calverton National Cemetery; parades were held in Riverhead and Greenport, involving local fire departments and veterans and stopovers at war memorials.

We were struck by the ceremony held early Monday morning in Orient, at the far end of the North Fork. It began shortly after 7:30 a.m. when uniformed members of Orient Fire Department began marching from their headquarters on Route 25 and proceeded to wind their way through the village.

Drums could be heard as the parade progressed through the hamlet, stopping at the World War I memorial on Village Lane. That stone monument, at the entrance to the yacht club, bears the names of local residents who served in The Great War. 

The bay was nearly shrouded by fog Monday morning as those who came to honor the dead listened to prayers and watched as a wreath was laid at the memorial, while the sound of Taps — that lonely, haunting, deeply meaningful melody — floated over them and out onto the water. 

Many of Monday’s celebrations involved war memorials. Every town and many hamlets have them. What makes Village Lane in Orient so distinct is that over a few short blocks, an extensive American history is on full display. The lane is America, and at four of the parade’s stops, the names of the dead and those who served could be seen on the monuments.

After the World War I marker, the parade proceeded up Village Lane, stopping at the World War II memorial. On the monument are the names of 52 Orient residents who served in that war, including one — Leslie Vail — who went down with a U.S. Navy ship. His name is prominent on the monument.

From there the parade moved on to a monument acknowledging veterans of the wars in Korea and Vietnam. And finally, the parade, and the 50 or so people who followed it, arrived at the tall obelisk etched with the names of Orient residents who served — and died — in the Civil War.

There are surnames on the monument that can still be found among Orient residents today. The continuity that connects the past to the present is right there on the obelisk. 

Our respect for America’s war dead was on full display across the North Fork Monday. It was a day to remember the unselfish citizens who put their country first. 

In Orient, it was an opportunity to see a great deal of American history in a few short blocks and to appreciate, in the names carved in stone, how much one small eastern Long Island hamlet gave to the country.