James Dickinson, 17, stood on a small stage at the John Walsh Memorial Park, in East Northport, and took aim at what Memorial Day has become for many: the start of summer, a day off work, a reason to barbecue.
The Northport High School junior, who won an essay contest sponsored by the East Northport Knights of Columbus, recalled a feeling of overwhelming gratitude when he visited the Vietnam and Korean war memorials in Washington, D.C. years ago, and said he’d call on those feelings every Memorial Day.
“My great-grandfather lied about his age and joined the army at 16,” he said, adding that today we may be a nation less “mobilized on the homefront,” but we should never be less appreciative of those who serve.
Dickinson set the tone of the post-parade ceremony as the high school’s marching band played in the background, people spread out throughout the park and members of community organizations placed wreaths on memorial stones.
Morton Weisberg, 76, of Pennsylvania, watched the ceremony with his arms around his grandson Nicholas’ shoulders and his wife, daughter, and other grandchildren nearby.
Wearing an American flag shirt, the former member of the Navy said his reason for attending the parade while in town for the holiday weekend was simple: patriotism.
Fred Amore, commander of the VFW Post 9263, said he and the fellow veterans in his post - which includes those who fought in every war from World War I to Afghanistan - marched in two parades that day. They were in Commack, where their hall is located, in the morning, and East Northport in the afternoon.
“It’s an honor,” said Amore, a Vietnam veteran. “People get to see who we are that have served our country.”
He said he appreciated Dickinson’s speech, and especially hearing the sentiment from a young person.
“Every year, people are more receptive,” he said.
To close his essay, Dickinson reminded the crowd that there were simple ways to observe Memorial Day in a way that was more meaningful like waving a flag outside your home, thanking a person in uniform, or holding a moment of silence.
“So the next time someone tells me ‘Happy Memorial Day,’” he said. “I’m going to tell them, ‘Have you honored a soldier today?’”