This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, a war in which over 4.7 million Americans served and which served as the inspiration for “In Flanders Field,” a poem traditionally read on Memorial Day.
That poem was read aloud to the community of Port Washington at the Sousa Band Shell as part of Monday’s Memorial Day commemoration.
“In Flanders fields the poppies grow/Between the crosses, row on row/That mark our place; and in the sky/The larks, still bravely singing, fly/Scarce heard amid the guns below,” one veteran recited.
There are no longer any surviving World War I veterans in Port Washington. But veterans from every war since then— World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan— took their turns standing to be recognized.
The ceremony was preceded by a parade down Main Street in Port Washington. After a hot, muggy weekend, it was cool and cloudy as participants assembled on Port Washington Boulevard, but that did not hurt attendance.
In addition to the veterans, the Paul D. Schreiber High School marching band and cheerleaders took part in the parade, as did various Boy and Girl Scout troops, police, firefighters and a variety of local organizations.
The parade route ended at the Town Dock, where attendees and participants alike headed to the adjacent Sunset Park for a ceremony at the bandshell.
Veterans were joined on stage by members of the Schreiber band, who performed the national anthem, “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America,” with vocals provided by Bob Breslin.
The Rev. Gary Parker of St. Stephen’s Church, a former U.S. Navy chaplain, gave opening remarks and a closing benediction.
“Our children must know who they were, what they did and why they did it, and to do anything less would be a disservice to their sacrifice and their memory,” he said.
The two grand marshals for the parade were also recognized during the ceremony: Douglas Schlaefer Sr. of VFW Post 1819 and John Hellenschmidt of American Legion Post 509. Schlaefer served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and Hellenschmidt in the National Guard. Both men are longtime Port Washington residents.
John Fiore, commander of VFW Post 1819, introduced Schlaefer and took a moment beforehand to briefly describe what the day meant to him and other veterans.
“Please don’t wish me happy Memorial Day, there’s nothing happy about the loss of the brave men and women of our armed forces who died in combat defending America,” he said. “Memorial Day is a time for reflection, pause, remembrance and thanksgiving.”