Local History Matters: Reflections on Memorial Day in Port Washington

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Trustee Ken Buettner in the 1943 Army Jeep
Ross Lumpkin

Unlike the annual three-day weekend that kicks off the summer for vacationers and the retail sales for consumers that distract us from the true meaning of Memorial Day, the traditional parades that take place all over the country remind participants and spectators alike of what this day is about – honoring our veterans.
We gather together in our local communities, aware of our own somber memories of war, service, and sacrifice that may be unspoken but nonetheless bond us to one another as grateful citizens.

I think of my father, Capt. Pickett Lumpkin, who volunteered on Pearl Harbor Day, served in the South Pacific, and when the war was over, decided to stay on, and became a “lifer” in the U.S. Navy.
A parade envelopes somber thoughts in a spirit of celebration, especially when the music of John Philip Sousa fills the air. As a Navy brat, its rhythms and melodies have become a part of my DNA, and I can almost see myself leading the parade down Main Street in Port Washington toward the bandshell.

I wish I could share with my dad how cool it is that I now live in Port Washington, the same town where the “March King” settled in 1915.
In preparation for this year’s parade, the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society gathered together with other local organizations on Campus Drive to line up for the march. A couple of trustees agreed to lead the way carrying the society’s banner, Trustee Ken Buettner came with his 1943 Army Jeep, and one of our antique car climb participants showed up with a 1931 Ford for good measure.

Some of us walked and some rode shotgun.
Riding in an antique car in a parade is exhilarating. As a participant, you don’t get to see much of the parade, but you do get to greet people from all over town, and how they love those cars. “Look at that car! Look at that Jeep! How fantastic!” The Ford and the Jeep (also a Ford), are the real deals.
What a wonderful town this is. Parents with young children, introducing them to the idea of citizenship. Flags waving, friendly smiles, recognizing a neighbor, the band playing, not to mention a sunny day for a change. How lucky we are.
On lower Main Street, just past the library, there’s a group that is more exuberant than the others. One of them sees our banner as we start down the hill, shouts “Historical Society!”, and jumps up with his arms in a victory sign as if we had just scored a touchdown at the Super Bowl. They all cheer. Thanks for the boost, neighbors.
After the parade, Ken took some of us to a small unpaved road in the Nassau Knowles Cemetery to an area where many old families of Port Washington are buried. Ken says that when the caretakers at Knowles made plans to pave the road, the families objected: they wanted it preserved just the way it was. He knows those sorts of things.
A flag and flowers had been placed in front of a large memorial stone for Private William E. Henderson who was killed in action in France in 1918 at the age of 23. His father, William S. Henderson, was a prominent builder at the turn of the century who built the Port’s Train Station and many homes in the neighborhood where you will find Henderson Avenue, and just off that, Edwin Court, named for his son.
On the memorial his mother and father inscribed:
“HE WENT AWAY IN THE BEST OF HEALTH
HE LOOKED SO YOUNG AND BRAVE
WE LITTLE THOUGHT HOW SOON HE’D BE LAID IN A SOLDIER’S GRAVE.”

Ross Lumpkin is a trustee of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, www.cowneck.org.

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