Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

To those who grew up in East Hampton, Memorial Day was always special. As a child, Memorial Day, and especially the parade, was the "big event," which certainly would pale in comparison to the big production festivities such as those seen on TV from our Nations Capitol. But our community, joining together - kids laughing, adults lining the parade route and applauding those marching - to me, was so much more meaningful. And the solemn services at the Memorial at the High School, a gun salute and taps at Lakeview Cemetery and the address by guest speaker and reading of the rolls of fallen veterans with the crisp drum role made this event come alive.

Our Nation is fortunate to have a resurgence of respect and patriotism remembering the sacrifices of those soldiers who serve now and who served in our past, protecting and preserving our freedom. That to some extent came about through the tragedy of 9-11.

The realization that war is much more than a glorious exercise jumped nightly into our living rooms as reporters such as Walter Cronkite brought us to the battlefields of Vietnam, displaying the brutality of combat, the horror, the fatigue, the destruction, the noise, the obscenities, and most vividly, in spectra color, the blood and the death of your soldiers. Many became disillusioned. And the respect and honor of those that served was rarely accorded.

I have had the privilege to be elected and serve as State Representative and the honor on several occasions to present the Memorial Day Address. Preparing remarks in 1987 as I returned from meetings in Washington DC with members of our Congressional Delegation, my thought centered on some of the monuments that I took a few moments to tour while there. To the crowd gathered that Memorial Day, I posed a riddle: what does 43E - 3, 44E - 24 and 20W - 99 have in common? The answer - they identify the panel and line and position recognizing names of three young men who grew up in this town - boys I went to high school with - men killed in battle in Vietnam - James Banning, Bernd Bachleda and David Swann. In the simplicity of those black marble panels, hardly visible from Constitution Avenue as one walks below street grade to view them, shall forever humble this Nation as they display the names of over 58,000 who perished in that Asian Nation.

Monday, Sgt. Aaron McLaughlin will give the Memorial Day address. Sgt. McLaughlin grew up in East Hampton and is a decorated member of the U.S. Army having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a recipient of the Purple Heart. On a personal note, I remember Sgt. McLaughlin as a boy in what were simpler times when he played Little League baseball, my son Greg being a member of the same team. I also know how proud his grandmother, Ann, is of Aaron and how his grandfather Bill, a veteran and now deceased, was of his grandson.

So my invitation to one and all. Come watch the parade on Memorial Day. Listen to the observances - reading the roll of deceased veterans, the Gettysburg Address, the poem "In Flanders Fields," our local school bands, the solemn prayers, and Sgt. McLaughlin. Don't we owe those who have served and sacrificed at least that?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Center School Recreational Field

Often we take for granted our public facilities, parks or recreationaly lands, and certainly their origins. For instance, the athletic filed adjoining the Center School was originally a gift to the Town of East Hampton. In the Fall of 1922, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. (the fabled bell maker) gave approximately 3 acres of land north of the then grammer school ( which became the High School in 1939) for a Community playground. The land was deeded to the East Hampton Bank & Trust Co. with the understanding that when $5,000 had been raised and expended toward putting the grounds into proper condition, the land should be deeded to the town. One of the stipulations of the gift was that alcohol could not be served on the grounds. You will likely note that although beer is served at Old Home Day, it is done so from the rear of the American Legion Hall and not from the school grounds.
A commission composed of J. Howell Conklin, Secretary, Albert B. Starr, Treasurer and Harlan G. Hills, Chairman formed to raise the money by popular subscription.
In July 1923, the Village Improvement Society voted to start this subscription with a gift of $1,000 and a pledge to give 75 pecent of the proceeds of the upcoming Carnival towards the same fund. The successor to the Village Improvement Society is the Old Home Day Committe, which we all know holds its annual festivities on those same grounds.
Work commenced on the grounds on the morning of July 19th, under the supervision of Harlan G. Hills with Wolfe Reisiner, as foreman. A carloan of tile had alread been unloaded and a ditch was dug from the Congregational Church north past the Methodist Church (now the American Legion Hall). Today, DEP and our town Sanitarian would initiate a cease and decist order until proper permits could be obtained, but in 1923, the 125 feet of 18 inch tile that would carry the brook as well as connecting Bevin's sewer with storm drains in the Village Center and permitting the project were not quite as involved or formal as today. Those drainage pipes eventually emptied into Pocotopaug Creek heading towards the Salmon then Connecticut Rivers.
In addition to the drainage, horse and carriage sheds belonging to the 2 churches were dismantled or moved.
The committee planned to put in 2 or 3 tennis courts, croquet, basketball, swings, teeter and everything that go to make up a playground, and, raise $10,000 within a few weeks. The project was a success and the field has been used for a variety of activities. Old Home Day annually, but from 1939 to the mid 1960s it was the High School athletic field. Home soccer and baseball games were played her as well as track and field meets. And from the mid 1920s to the 1950s, the East Hampton Bombers played their summer baseball games along with the factory league teams.