As a fine, cold mist fell over Calverton National Cemetery, the crowd gathered there beneath umbrellas and raincoats joined together to sing the National Anthem.
Dozens of American flags flapped and rippled in the chilly wind as the song filled the clearing, where the cemetery’s annual Veterans Day ceremony drew a sizable crowd despite the inclement weather.
Veterans from numerous local veterans organizations proudly displayed their colors and marched in a procession that drew cheers from the crowd.
Those from the Vietnam Veterans of America, donned in green jackets, were personally addressed by Congressman Lee Zeldin, who spoke during the ceremony.
“Decades ago, when our men and women who served in Vietnam returned home, there was no handshake for them,” he told the crowd. “There was no hug. And still to this day we try to make up for what happened then with a very heartfelt welcome home.”
He also addressed the Patriot Guard Riders, who stood behind him in a half-circle bearing American flags.
“If a casket comes here alone, rest assured that the Patriot Guard Riders will be here to greet them,” Zeldin said. “Because no service member should be buried without that last thank you, without that American flag that flies high on behalf of a very grateful nation.”
Perhaps the most powerful message was delivered in an essay read aloud by Richard Westhoff from the Marine Corps League.
“You can’t tell a vet just by looking,” Westhoff read. “He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn’t run out of fuel.
“He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket – palsied now and aggravatingly slow – who helped liberate a Nazi death camp, and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.
“He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.”
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Katie Blasl