Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Wednesday, 05 June 2013 00:00
There were no Memorial Day speeches in the hamlet of Oyster Bay on Monday, May 27. The reason was simple, said Reginald Butt, Jr. commander of both the American Legion Post No. 4 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3088. “The town never brought out the amplification system. They said it was an oversight. Bob McGeever who was in charge of the event over the years, retired. But the American flag was set at half- mast at 8 a.m. and we put it up at noon. I asked that the system be installed and I had a confirmation letter from the town,” said the commander.
Reggie said he would have given a speech on why we need to remember our veterans. He gave his version of this year’s American Legion speech in Hempstead on Sunday.
Commander Butt has often told listeners that Americans must remember that freedom isn’t free. In fact, it’s only possible because our fallen heroes have paid its highest price in memory of which there are ceremonies and observances in towns across this great country.
This year the American Legion shared the history of Memorial Day reporting that it is believed to have been celebrated with a parade of freed slaves and Union soldiers marching through Charleston, SC in 1865.
Waterloo, NY, is considered the official birthplace of Memorial Day because after it was observed there on May 5, 1866, General John Murray and General John A. Logan, impressed with how the South had honored the fallen Confederate soldiers, called on all communities to honor the war dead every year.
In 1868, Logan, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation that “Decoration Day” be observed nationwide on May 30 — specifically because it was not the anniversary of a battle.
Still, many Southern communities did not want to honor “Decoration Day,” because of lingering resentments from the Civil War. The alternative name, “Memorial Day” wasn’t commonly used until World War II until Federal law recognized the holiday as “Memorial Day” in 1967.
In Oyster Bay the community lost many veterans between last Memorial Day and this one. Commander Butt listed the dead: Sam Lucchesi, Herbert Abrams, Burt Yberg, Charles Donisi, Richard Lane, Nick Baldino, James Brandt, Eugene Abbate, Vincent Oliveri and Ian McKenzie.
“We did poppy sales for three weekends before Memorial Day. Four Legionnaires and a dozen Boy Scouts from Troop 299 put out over 300 American flags at local cemeteries marking veteran’s graves. On Saturday, May 25 we held four services at different memorial monuments in Oyster Bay. Even though it rained, we went out and did that. There were 16 Legionnaires and VFW members that participated in a Memorial Day Remembrance Lunch on the Friday before Memorial Day at the Life Enrichment Center at Oyster Bay.
“The morning of Memorial Day veteran Anthony Fabbicante sat outside the Legion Hall on South Street selling copies of his book Viro. He donated all the money to our fund for veterans at the VA Hospital at Northport,” explained Butt.
Butt said there is a need to recruit more members because their numbers are going down: “We lost so many this year and have to make them up. Our quota goes up each year and most of the veterans are in their 70s, 80s and a lot are in their 90s. The young guys are not active. They are busy taking care of young families. We have 10 members from the Gulf War who come at times. But you can’t be active when raising a family.”
The commander explained that they had 132 veterans who paid their membership dues last year, so their quota for this year is 133. “That means we have to go out and get new members, but since we are 10 down, we need to get 11. We also have to go after those who haven’t paid their dues.”
One of the members they have lost is Tiny Brandt, who was membership officer. Presently, Reggie is filling that job but he needs someone else to take it over.
He said weekly they have from 18 to 25 veterans at a meeting. Additionally there are about 30 to 40 members are old timers and are living out of state—but they are in their quota, Butt explained.
While Memorial Day was less than hoped for, July Fourth will be different assured Reggie. The town has promised him that the celebration at the Derby-Hall Bandstand will be as expected with the sound system operating. Also the town has promised him a couple hundred chairs for people to sit and enjoy the speeches.
With Sagamore Hill shut down for the Fourth due to federal budget cuts, the celebration in the hamlet will be the only one locally for 2013.
Traditionally the Theodore Roosevelt Association provides the program with the help of Oyster Bay Town Historian John Hammond. “They get the captain or the executive from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, aircraft carrier to speak, according to whomever can get away.” Reggie is in charge of arranging the parade and the technological parts of the event.
He keeps busy doing Legion work. On Thursday, May 30, he was giving an orientation for 50 high school juniors who are going to Boys State to be held this summer at SUNY Morrisville where it has been for the past 12 years. It is an educational program of government instruction and has been a program of The American Legion since 1935.
At American Legion Boys State, participants are exposed to the rights, privileges, duties and responsibilities of a citizen. Activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, chorus and recreational programs.