All across Long Island this Memorial Day, people remember loved ones and those we lost. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/A.J. Singh

This story was reported and written by Lisa L. Colangelo, Candice Ferrette, Nicholas Spangler and Dandan Zou

With Memorial Day parades, solemn ceremonies and visits to military grave sites, Long Islanders spent Monday honoring the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice.

The holiday stems from the American Civil War, the most deadly war of any in the nation’s history. More than 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed.

President Joe Biden joined military officials to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, noting each generation must ensure the sacrifice of the country's service members is not in vain.

"Freedom has never been guaranteed,” Biden said in remarks at the cemetery. “Every generation has to earn it, fight for it, defend it in the battle between autocracy and democracy, between the greed of a few, and the rights of many."

In New York, 16 state landmarks will be illuminated red, white and blue in honor of the fallen, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Monday. The sites include the Long Island Rail Road's East End Gateway at Penn Station, Moynihan Train Hall and One World Trade Center.

Ryan McCormack and his daughter, Quinn, 2, of Glen Head,...

Ryan McCormack and his daughter, Quinn, 2, of Glen Head, attend a ceremony in Sea Cliff Monday where posthumous military medals were conferred, including the Purple Heart to the family of World War II Navy veteran William Olitsky. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Rain held off for most of the day, until heavy showers arrived in the afternoon.

Pride in family, country

Under hazy skies, about 100 people gathered at Amityville’s village gazebo, including Cathy Nehring, William Brennan and their grandsons Owen and Jack Nehring, 5 and 12, for a ceremony.

Cathy Nehring said she wanted young Owen to “understand the importance of remembering all the soldiers and veterans, to be proud of them and our country.”

Service is a tradition in their family: Brennan’s father, also named William Brennan, served in World War II, while Brennan serves in the Air National Guard and Amityville Fire Department. He and Jack, one of the fire department’s junior members, stood in uniform and at attention during the memorial.

“This is what this community is all about,” Mayor Dennis Siry, a retired FDNY firefighter, said in an interview. “Year after year, we see a lot of the same faces and some new faces.”

The ceremony included prayers by clergy, remarks from veterans and elected officials and music by the Amityville High School band.

Members of the Amityville Junior Fire Department participate in the...

Members of the Amityville Junior Fire Department participate in the village's Memorial Day ceremony Monday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

“Today we want to pay homage to those who made an extraordinary sacrifice for freedom,” said Mike Scirica, who deployed to Japan with the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

The Sciricas, who live in Amityville, were children during World War II, and Nancy Scirica had friends who lost a brother who deployed to New Guinea to fight against Japan. This year, as she does every year around Memorial Day, she checked in with them again.

“I remember the sadness,” she said.

Jeffrey Pribut, a Navy veteran, visits his the grave of...

Jeffrey Pribut, a Navy veteran, visits his the grave of his father, World War II veteran Howard Pribut, at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale Monday. Credit: /A.J. Singh

At Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, American flags rippled in the breeze, dotting gravestones of U.S. service members buried in straight, crisp rows.

“This is one of the most peaceful, most majestic places on earth. So many of them died before their time,” said Lou Oehler, who accompanied his wife, Susan, to visit the grave of her older brother, Henry Thomas York, killed at 19 in the Vietnam War.

Susan Oehler, 62, of North Babylon, visits the grave site of...

Susan Oehler, 62, of North Babylon, visits the grave site of her brother Henry Thomas York, at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale on Monday. She was 6 when her brother died fighting in Vietnam. Credit: James Carbone

Susan Palmer Oehler, 62, of North Babylon, was only 6 when her brother was killed. But she remembers playing in the family’s living room as service members knocked on the door to deliver the news of her brother’s death — a moment that changed their family forever.

Her mother instinctively bolted out the back door in disbelief. Her father answered the door, already grief-stricken.

York, a marine, died in combat in the Battle of Khe Sanh on Feb. 8, 1968. He was in a group of North Babylon High School seniors who were drafted or enlisted in 1967.

On Memorial Day morning, Palmer Oehler received a text from the wife of another marine who returned from Vietnam and recently died of natural causes. In the letter, the wife describes how her husband had been haunted for decades by York’s death and wanted to pass along a memory box filled with items from their time in the service.

Palmer Oehler said she believes it was a sign.

“For years, I searched and searched for my brother’s friends to hear stories about my brother,” Palmer Oehler said. “After all these years, you think it goes away but it doesn’t. It stays with you.”

The clean and orderly symmetry of the cemetery is a tribute to the people it holds, said Dave A. Smith, of Farmingdale, who visited his father’s grave with his wife, Maria, and grandson, Wyatt, 14.

“No matter what angle you look at the graves, they are in straight geometric lines," Dave Smith said. "It’s extraordinary and beautifully kept. We’re very happy about that because they all deserve it." 

His father, Joseph Patrick Smith, a paratrooper who was wounded on D-Day after having been shot at six times, returned from World War II and went on to have four children although disabled and altered by the experience, his son said.

“It was rather a miracle that he made it,” Dave Smith said. “I was the youngest and he lived until I was 15.”

Joseph Smith has been buried in Long Island National Cemetery since 1968.

“It’s a very peaceful place. It’s where the memories flow very readily and we like being here,” Dave Smith said.

'Hardly anyone to visit them'

In another part of the cemetery, 13-year-old Matthew Carvajal walked in and out of the rows, placing his hand on top of some of the gravestones and reading the names of others.

“The only thing sadder than all of the dead people here is that there’s hardly anyone here to visit them,” Carvajal, of Centereach, said.

Matthew Carvajal, 13, of Centereach, prays at the gravesite of...

Matthew Carvajal, 13, of Centereach, prays at the gravesite of a WWI veteran at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale on Monday. Credit: James Carbone

The eighth grade student at Dawnwood Middle School didn't know any of the fallen soldiers but asked his mother to take him there to pay respects after hearing his history teacher talk about the significance of the day.

His teacher described visiting the cemetery last year and noted how few people choose to spend the holiday commemorating the dead there.

It’s a direct way to show gratitude to those who gave their lives for the country, the teen said.

There are some who make regular trips to the cemetery such as sisters Michelle and Cheryl Sanders. They drove from New York City to visit the burial site of their father, Francisco Enriquez Sanders, a U.S. Army veteran who served in World War II and died of a heart attack when they were just 4 and 5 years old, in 1961. They visit on birthdays and holidays — especially military holidays.

Cheryl Sanders, left, and her sister Michelle Sanders, visit the...

Cheryl Sanders, left, and her sister Michelle Sanders, visit the grave site of their father, Franciso Enriquez Sanders, at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale on Monday. Credit: James Carbone

Although they were raised by their mother, the sisters are uniquely proud of their father, who was Filipino serving under American command.

“To do what he did, to come here from over there …even though there was oppression in the Philippines …he did right by our country,” Cheryl Sanders  said.

Adelyce Gutierrez, 1, left, and Prescilla Sanchez, of Bay Shore,...

Adelyce Gutierrez, 1, left, and Prescilla Sanchez, of Bay Shore, enjoy a visit to Robert Moses State Park in Babylon on Monday. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Sandy, chilly surf

Memorial Day was not far from the minds of beachgoers who ventured to Robert Moses State Park, hoping to grab some time on the sand before the rain started.

Prescilla Sanchez, of Bay Shore, donned a Blue Angels shirt while relaxing at the beach with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 1. She hadn't been able to attend one of the Jones Beach air shows this weekend to see the U.S. Navy pilot team known for their precision and aerial stunts because she had to work.

“It's just my way of showing homage to [the Navy] and to the service,” Sanchez said of her attire.

Her son, Anthony Orlando Wilson, was excited about the unofficial start of summer.  A fan of the water, Anthony, 4, wore a pair of orange shorts with turquoise alligators in swim rings. Playing with his mother, the boy screamed with glee as he ran from the shoreline when the cold water rose up to his knees.

“We just want to relax. Let the kids play. Yell,” Sanchez said. “We don't have to worry about cleaning up after them, other than their sand toys."

Michaela Heath, 10, had just finished marching in a Memorial Day parade with her Girl Scout troop and was enjoying the surf.

Her father, Richard Heath, cheered her on, before windy, steady rain sent beachgoers fleeing in midafternoon.

The water, which was in the mid-50s, was simply too cold for the older Heath, of Commack, even when it wasn’t raining.

Richard Heath was a little surprised at the sparse crowds on the beach as he imagined it would be busier.

“It’s overcast, a bit cool and windy,” he said. “But we're here and it's actually pretty good.”

With AP

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