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Only in Oyster Bay: The Fourth of July

A Very Personal Independence Day Celebration

Dan Walker said it. “You don’t get it any better: the Fourth of July with Jim Foote, the Rough Riders, the Commander of the USS TR, all in one place, Oyster Bay,” he said. Mr. Walker could have added to the list his brother Stephen Walker who this year added new musical selections that enhanced the celebration of American Independence.

Oyster Bay Community Band Director Stephen Walker added the theme from Saving Private Ryan, a film that features D-Day and the landing of the Allied Forces on the beach in Normandy 65 years ago, to this year’s Fourth of July program.

Seated on the Derby-Hall bandstand were Ned Johnson, Nassau County American Legion Commander; American Legion Commander Post #4 William Ferris; American Legion Advocate General Charles Mills; and from the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier: Captain Ladd Wheeler; Commander Master Chief Dave Stitt; Candice Stone, yeoman; Qualified Helmsman Kristal Anglero of Brooklyn; Oyster Bay Receiver of Taxes James Stefanich; Town Councilwoman Beth Faughnan; Town of Oyster Bay Historian John Hammond; and Master of Ceremonies Reginald Butt.

Captain Wheeler brought with him an American flag that flew in Iraq, Afghanistan, and over the USS TR while in the combat zone. He presented the flag to the Town of Oyster Bay Councilwoman Elizabeth Faughnan. Her Father John Faughnan, is a past Commander of the American Legion Howard A. Van Wagner Post of Locust Valley.

Captain Wheeler gave an historical perspective of the 233 years of Independence Day saying it is a great holiday and was created in order that our children and our children’s children can live in freedom.

Independence Day is a tribute to those men and women who fight yesterday and today to keep that freedom. “From battlefields in Bunker Hill, to Iwo Jima, France and Fallujah our nation continues to thrive on the backs of men and women who lay down their lives so that we may prosper,” he said.

“What began as a resolution unanimously adopted by the Continental Congress on July 2nd and ultimately endorsed two days later became our Declaration of Independence, our most revered national holiday.”

He said no other colony had successfully left a mother country, in this case Britain which had the most powerful Navy in the world. “King George III sent a massive armada for what became the largest amphibious assault of the 18th Century – over 300 ships and 32,000 men.” On July 12, the British sent the Phoenix, a 44-gun battleship and the Rose, a 28 gun frigate to attack New York City.

Alexander Hamilton commanded four of the American cannons in the line of fire but the British won the day. He said, “By mid-August only 20 percent of the citizens of New York City remained – a mere 5,000 citizens. It was seven years before New York was taken back from British control.

He said it took new battle strategies to fight the British. The Americans under George Washington fought in small skirmishes against the British who fought in the old style of combat. “And, it worked. He won. We won. And the ‘United Colonies of America’ became ‘Free and Independent States.’ The United States of America was born,” he said.

Captain Wheeler said, “The freedom we enjoy today is the grand gift begun 233 years ago by our fathers.” He thanked the community for their hospitality. The captain, his crew members, James Foote and the Rough Riders had a second speaking engagement that day at Sagamore Hill.

That was the moment when the Oyster Bay Community Band played the theme of Saving Private Ryan. Mr. Walker introduced the song bringing the focus back to TR saying that his son, TR Jr. landed at Utah Beach and took part in the D-Day fight 65 years ago.

The President Speaks

Past Nassau County American Legion Commander Reggie Butt presented Jim Foote in his role of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President.

In the words of TR, Mr. Foote said that the job of the United States of America was the “proper policing of the world.” He said, “The policing policy of the U.S. is only as strong as our U.S. Navy. The Navy is the right arm of the United States and is our peacemaker. Woe to us if we let it become inefficient.”

The Rough Riders were there, taking part in the presentation and Captain Uhlinger rode his cavalry horse down Audrey Avenue shouting “Hip, Hip, Hurray,” to TR and the crowd, which was grand – about 200 people came out to celebrate the day.

Mr. Foote said as TR, that the Rough Riders were amazing in that the troop was put together in only 50 days. “I’d like to see Independence Day as a thoroughly Americanization Day. We shall never achieve true greatness unless first we are Americans. It is not a question of birthplace, creed or color but a profuse spirit and ideals of equal rights and equal obligations.”

Mr. President gave orders to Mr. Uhlinger to dismiss the troops and the Rough Riders rode up Audrey Avenue and on to Sagamore Hill for their appearance there.

Steven Walker added, “TR’s son landed at Utah Beach on D-Day, 65 years ago.” He said his uncle, Alfred Walker did the cover art for the sheet music of a piece composed by Irving Berlin. He was the staff artist with the 5th Army and Mr. Berlin wrote the song, The 5th Army Is Where My Heart Is.

As the music played, “TR” walked through the crowd shaking hands with men, women and children – just as TR would have in his day.

Reggie Butt thanked all those who made the day possible beginning with the Oyster Bay Historic Commission which sponsored the Oyster Bay Community Band; the Oyster Bay Main Street Association and their president Ellen Roché for sponsoring the 1st Cavalry Rough Riders; the Oyster Bay Historical Society and their president Maureen Monck for sponsoring James Foote as TR. He thanked the Town of Oyster Bay Department of Parks and especially Bob McGeever for preparing the bandstand and the street with chairs for the public; and for preparing the Oyster Bay Community Center where the group first gathered thanks to Bob Rossi; and a last thank you to John Hammond, president of the Oyster Bay Historic Commission. At that he dismissed the participants and the service representatives marched back to the Oyster Bay Community Center.

Colonial Heritage

This year again, Raynham Hall Museum staff members marched reminding the community that the museum is a symbol of freedom with strong connections to President George Washington in its archival material.

The staff marched in authentic colonial gowns fashioned of reproduction fabric made in India.“I’m all laced up in this traditional outfit,” said education program director Jessica Semins. It was hot, uncomfortable and gave the ladies a good understanding of the life of the women of Raynham Hall those many years ago.

Raynham Hall Museum offered guests a free concert of colonial ballads and fife and drum music following Oyster Bay’s Independence Day parade in the home’s garden.

On Sunday, July 5, the celebrations continued with over 100 guests enjoying a musicale performed by the A.M.E. Zion Church Choir to benefit the museum. It included inspiring spirituals and robust patriotic songs performed in the ballroom of Mrs. Richard Storrs’ lovely North Shore historic home.