For many, Memorial Day weekend on the East End has become emblematic of all things summer—returning seasonal residents and visitors, charity events, traffic, first beach days, strolls around our villages and hamlets, gallery shows and everything else that comes with the warmer months—so much so, that people often forget or ignore what it’s really all about. Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring those who died serving the United States in our many wars. It’s not a joyful occasion, and one should probably avoid wishing anyone a “happy Memorial Day.”
In between barbecues and sunbathing and Starbucks runs, this weekend would be a good time to truly observe this day of remembrance and visit some of the many war memorials and monuments that quietly honor our fallen soldiers and veterans in both conspicuous and totally out of the way spots throughout the Hamptons and the North Fork.
Like the true meaning of Memorial Day, these stone and bronze testaments to our brave fighters are often ignored, overlooked or taken for granted—regarded as landmarks instead of solemn reminders of so many veterans and lost lives. Right this wrong and take some time to absorb the impact of what all the pretty statues, dedications and plaques really represent.
Here, we offer a town-by-town guide to help you on your way.
At the junction of Jobs Lane and Pond Lane in Southampton Village, even the most unobservant person will note the large, black ship’s chains, cannons and stacks of cannonballs perched atop the manicured green lawn of Monument Square. This striking memorial was erected in 1897 “to the memory of the soldiers and sailors of Southampton who served their country with honour by land and sea” in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War and the Civil War.
Right nearby in Agawam Park, the World War I Memorial monument overlooks Lake Agawam. Dedicated in 1923 to honor those who fought and those who died in the Great War, and still undergoing restoration, the memorial features Corinthian columns and walls with the names of hundreds of soldiers, specific battles, and, separately, the names of seven men who died in the war, along with the places and dates of their deaths.
Between Monument Square and the World War I Memorial, a fountain (also being restored) stands in honor of Southampton’s World War II and Korean War veterans.
Created in the 1990s on the corner of Methodist Lane and Route 27, the low-slung, concrete East Hampton Veterans Memorial honors veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, though the East Hampton VFW is about to install another plaque in honor of those who served in the wars since Vietnam—in fact, it’s scheduled to go up in time for Memorial Day, but nothing is set in stone. An older monument, dedicated in the 1920s, and honoring veterans prior to WWII, stands behind it.
A full-sized, real M60 Patton tank, which served between Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War, sits outside the East Hampton VFW Post 550 in Wainscott with a plaque honoring all veterans. Built in 1925 to honor local Civil War and WWI vets, the Springs war memorial stands outside Ashawagh Hall, and has since had veterans of other wars added. The cannon on top has been removed for repairs for quite some time.
This historic whaling post has done much to remember its veterans and those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. Dedicated in 1896 and standing at the southern end of Main Street, Sag Harbor’s Civil War memorial, Soldier’s Monument, includes a cannon, a statue of a Union soldier atop a pedestal and a large urn once used as a horse trough and now full of flowers—all surrounded by an iron fence.
Further south, the Great War Memorial at Otter Pond features a large boulder with an eagle perched atop it, and a bronze plaque of names. A similar World War II Memorial boulder with bronze plaque and eagle stands beneath a flagpole in Marine Park. A memorial dedicated to the soldiers in Korea and the Vietnam War was also dedicated there in 1981.
Also in the village, the Sag Harbor/North Haven Bridge was dedicated in 2008 as the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge in honor of a heroic local Marine who gave his life to save the lives of many others during a suicide bombing in Iraq that year. A nearby bench is also dedicated to Haerter, who posthumously earned the Navy Cross for his actions. Beneath the bridge, a large graffiti mural unofficially honors Haerter, and despite its illegal origin, the Village opted not to remove the tribute.
Across from North Haven, on Shelter Island, the South Ferry’s Southern Cross was rededicated the Lt. Joe Theinert in 2010 to honor the fallen local Army 10th Mountain Division Lieutenant who was killed by an IED in Afghanistan in June of that year. A 1.4-mile stretch of Route 114 from the South Ferry Terminal to the Cartwright Road Circle was also dedicated as Lt. Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Way in 2010.
Among the village’s many memorials, the St. Agnes Church WWI and WWII Memorial is a plaque dedicated in 1946 to honor the 25 men who died in the two wars. Where 1st Street and Main Road meet, a granite memorial that looks like a headstone combined with a bench, honors those who served in Vietnam on one side and Korea on the other. In the same location, a granite WWII memorial reads, “For God For Country For All, Forever Honored Forever Mourned,” and a WWI memorial features a bronze statue of a soldier atop a boulder. A granite Civil War memorial includes an obelisk at Main Road and Broad Street.
On the corner of West Main and Court streets, the World War Memorial was dedicated in 1920 to those who served in WWI. It’s built from a 6-foot granite block with a bronze plaque listing names of Riverhead residents who served, and an eternal flame burning on top. The reverse side is dedicated to those who served from World War II and beyond. Five stars are in the ground, representing the branches of the Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard.
Perhaps the most powerful tribute to our veterans and slain warriors, Calverton National Cemetery (210 Princeton Boulevard) is a sea of regimented white headstones on green grass. Only our service men and women and their families may be interred here. Among the dead is U.S. Navy Seal Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Section 67, Grave 3710), who earned a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism during 2005’s Operation Redwing in Afghanistan—the mission chronicled in the book and film Lone Survivor.
Look for these East End war memorials and monuments as well as memorials to victims of 9-11, WWII Merchant Marines and many others this Memorial Day weekend.