G.K. Chesterton must have known John and Carol Ann St. Lawrence. John was astonished to learn his uncle, a veteran, could not be honored alongside other veterans. That was because no one maintained local records of his service. John and his wife, Carol Ann, couldn’t let that stand. They located those records. John’s uncle now can be honored. But who was going to remember all the other veterans? John and Carol Ann couldn’t let that stand, either.
John and Carol Ann spent thousands of hours creating a database of records for nearly 600 veterans interred at Union and St. Ann’s cemeteries. This past Saturday, Oct. 24, Sayville High School graduate and NYS assemblyman Andrew Garbarino presented John and Carol Ann with a Congressional citation on behalf of Peter King. Garbarino also presented a flag from the United States Capitol from King. The honor was provided at the start of our community-wide effort to restore veterans’ gravestones. One 120 people from 20 organizations gathered for the Sayville Veteran Gravestone Restoration in honor of Veterans Day.
This was the third time community members gathered for the Sayville Veteran Gravestone Restoration. It was by far the largest. Confined to our homes since mid-March, people were happy to get outside, to do something—anything—together. To keep everyone safe, though, participants were not permitted to share tools. And one of our large groups, the West Sayville Junior Fire Department, reported directly to St. John Episcopal Church to minimize their contact. Community Ambulance members were on hand at St. Ann’s and Union cemeteries donned in referee shirts to enforce CDS social-distancing rules. Thankfully, our refs didn’t have to throw a flag or blow the whistle on anyone.
Through masked smiles, we were able to assert our faith in our community. We were there because of our shared respect for local veterans. In “Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse,” Tim Carney argues that the social glue churches provided for centuries is decaying. In its absence is a void of despair, alienation and frustration. We are raw. That is what makes people vulnerable to the polarizing messages in today’s political media. Carney also notes that some communities are overcoming this alienation. They do that by affirming the connections they have as a community. That is what our community does often. It’s what we did Saturday.
Saturday’s participants were encouraged to join the activity through an organization. Since group leaders offer their members a meaningful activity, this activity is meant to strengthen group membership and with it, our civic fabric. This year’s participating organizations included the American Legion, Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association, Bayport Cub Scouts, Pack 130, Bayport Junior Civic Association, Community Ambulance, Connetquot High School’s Rho Kappa (National Social Studies Honor Society), Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce, Greater Sayville Civic Association, Lt. Michael P. Murphy Sea Cadets, Sayville Common Ground, Sayville Fire Department, Sayville High School History Club, Sayville Historical Society, Sayville Kiwanis, Sayville Library, Sayville Pilot Club, Sayville Rotary, Sayville Village Improvement Society and the West Sayville Junior Fire Department.
This year, we started a new tradition: a feature of a West Sayville veteran. We featured William H. Colson. As a high schooler, Colson carved the famous winged shoe of the Flying Dutchmen still used by the West Sayville Fire Department. His meteoric rise continued well past his service in the Korean War as an Air Force staff sergeant. A wildlife artist and community leader, Colson could not be slowed down, even when he was stricken by a polio-like condition that took the use of his legs. He became an activist for veterans with disabilities. He managed three factories employing other veterans with disabilities. To help them feel their worth, his firm only bid on open contracts. He was and always will be an inspiration to our community.
We know the American Dream isn’t just about making money. It’s about the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts and Little League. It’s about the VFW, the American Legion and community cleanups and high school football games. It’s about Summer Fest! It’s about marching in parades and waving to our friends as we pass by on Main Street. It’s about honoring our veterans. It is also about making sure we remember them long after they are gone.