William Frankenbach, 82, died of a heart attack Wednesday.

William Frankenbach, 82, died of a heart attack Wednesday. Credit: Alan Raia

William "Bill" Frankenbach, 82, who died of a heart attack Wednesday, was not just the face of veterans affairs on the South Fork, he was its heart and soul as well.

An Air Force veteran who regularly flew in bombers from Puerto Rico to Alaska on missions to jam Soviet radar from 1947 to 1952, he came home to Southampton and opened a garden center, which is still operated by his son.

When Frankenbach's father had to give up running the annual Fourth of July parade after doing it for 39 years, Bill Frankenbach took over the job. Then did it every year for the past 49 years.

He had one longer commitment. He and his wife, Colleen, had been married for 58 years.

"He was our No. 1 patriot," said Robert Ross, a former Southampton Town deputy supervisor. "He was master of ceremonies for the parade, he did the Memorial Day services at Veterans Hall, he was president of the Southampton Rotary and the Korean War veterans . . . The list just goes on and on. This is a tremendous loss."

The Fourth of July parade -- the biggest on the East End and often one of the biggest on Long Island -- can bring 30,000 people or more to Southampton Village, which has a year-round population of fewer than 4,000. It runs for several hours, and many families arrive early and bring their chairs and snacks to the same spot on the same block every year.

And, every year, he could be found hours before the parade at the Southampton railroad station where the hundreds of marchers and dozens of fire engines and floats were assembled in a staging area.

Frankenbach was officially chairman of the Southampton Village Commission on Patriotic Events, an agency created to allow the village to obtain the insurance needed for the parade.

For 39 years, he also was the radio broadcast voice of the Southampton Mariners, the high school football team.

A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. John's Episcopal Church in Southampton. Burial with military honors follows at Water Mill Cemetery. Instead of flowers, donations can be made to: The Southampton Village Fourth of July Parade, P.O. Box 1234, Southampton, NY 11969.

Besides his wfe, he is survived by his son, William Jr., and daughters, Susan Steinke and Lisa Marie McWilliams, all of Southampton, a sister, Patricia Andersen of Madison, Conn., and four grandchildren.

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