Exhibit honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice
By Kevin Redding
For years, they were neglected. Passersby barely shot a second glance at the nearly 100 names of brave men and women from Northport and East Northport engraved on stone monuments on Main Street and in John Walsh Park — locals who lost their lives in service to their country in every conflict from the Civil War to the Iraq War.
But that all changed in recent months thanks to the efforts of Terry Reid and exhibit committee members of the Northport Historical Society.
“We don’t want people to just walk by these monuments anymore,” said Reid, curator of the historical society’s new and expansive Monuments Men exhibit, which opened Sept. 3. The exhibit showcases the stories behind these heroes with regiment and battle information, personal memorabilia, photographs, letters and mannequins draped in authentic uniforms and jackets — which Reid said is like “having our own troops standing guard.” World War II memorabilia includes a German hand grenade and a gas mask.
Items were pulled from military databases and museum records, while others were donated directly by family members of the fallen. “We wanted to put a face to every single name listed on each of those monuments so their memory would live on,” she said. “A lot of what we received must be priceless to these families but I think they knew the importance of this. Really, the whole gist of this exhibit for the veterans is: We won’t forget you.”
Reid, who was part of an exhibit put on by the historical society in 2015 marking the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, sought out any and all objects pertaining to the conflict at the time and began researching the names on the monuments. She was struck by photographs she found of soldiers and touched by their heartbreaking stories. It was then that she crafted the idea of shedding a light on all the local soldiers.
Once she got the green light from the historical society to helm the project, Reid reached out in search of anybody who had connections to the names, from members of the community on Facebook to the American Legion to Atria nursing home in East Northport. At the nursing home, she found and conducted a video interview with a Korean War veteran who detailed what he and his fellow troops went through during what’s been deemed “The Forgotten War,” which visitors can watch at a kiosk in front of the Korean War cabinet in the exhibit.
Multiple pieces of personal items belonging to Corporal Christopher Scherer, from East Northport who died in Iraq in 2007, is also highlighted, including the veteran’s lacrosse gloves from when he attended Northport High School, his Boy Scout lanyards, dog tags and even a photograph of his old bedroom — all provided by his family.
In mapping out a more personal exhibit, Reid also contacted Kevin O’Neill, a longtime friend of the museum and the co-owner of the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. The popular venue was named in honor of O’Neill’s brother-in-law, an Iraq War veteran and East Northport native who died in 2006 at 45. Engeman’s medals and awards, as well as other pieces of memorabilia, were donated by his widow.
“It stirs up a lot of emotions when you walk through something like this,” O’Neill said of the exhibit. “It was 11 years ago that John was killed but it feels like yesterday. I think the historical society and Terry did a first-class, wonderful job with this exhibit. It’s very impressive, powerful and beautiful display. I encourage people to go and learn about these men and women.”
Steven King, the chairman of the Exhibits and Collection Committee at the historical society, said the public so far has responded extremely well to Monuments Men.
“We’ve been getting a lot of compliments because of the nature of the exhibit,” King said. “It’s kind of a difficult subject to take on, as it represents a lot of pain for families that have lost soldiers in recent years, but they’ve all come forward and helped us with the exhibit to make sure the War on Terror period is well-represented. Including the most recent heroes has special poignancy for many of the visitors who have spoken to us about their appreciation for this.”
The entire exhibit takes up half the museum and is made up of 10 fully stocked cabinets of items. While no women from the area have lost their lives according to the monuments, the exhibit highlights the history of their roles within the military throughout the years, including the Women’s Army Corps and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, Reid said.
In conjunction with the exhibit, the society will host a special Veterans Weekend Trolley Tour on Nov. 12 (see below). In addition, a lecture by Ret. Col. Al Vitters, who served in Vietnam and was a powerful figure at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School in West Point, will be held on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. at the society’s headquarters. Vitters will reflect on his military career, which will cover when women were first admitted to the school in 1976. Admission is $5 per person, free for members.
“I just want people to stop and take a pause and really reflect and feel some gratitude for what these people do for us,” Reid said. “It’s important to the families that they are not forgotten and that their sacrifices stay in our hearts and minds. We all should be a little more thankful for our freedoms, as they come at a price, and we’re hoping this exhibit illustrates just how lucky we are.”
The Northport Historical Society, located at 215 Main Street in Northport, will present Monuments Men through May, 2018. Admission is free. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-757-9859 or visit www.northporthistorical.org.
Photos above by Heidi Sutton
Veterans Day Weekend Trolley Tour
All aboard! Have you ever noticed the trolley tracks that run through Northport? They’re all that is left of the trolley that ran from Woodbine Avenue to the Northport Railroad Station from 1902 until 1924.
On Sunday, Nov. 12, thanks to its sponsor Nolan & Taylor-Howe, the Northport Historical Society will run a trolley tour giving Long Islanders a chance to relive this important part of Northport’s past. Guided tours of the monuments in town honoring the Northport area fallen will be offered aboard a replica trolley generously provided by Mark of Elegance Limousine Service.
The tour, led by Northport Historical Society curator, Terry Reid, is a great family-friendly way to celebrate Veterans Day and learn about local history. Reid will share the stories of many of the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and who are currently also honored in the society’s new Monuments Men exhibit. Tours, which are approximately 45 minutes long, will depart from the Northport Historical Society at 215 Main Street at 1, 2 and 3 p.m.
Tickets are $20 for members, $25 for nonmembers, and $10 for veterans and children under 15. Refreshments will be served. To purchase tickets please visit www.northporthporthistorical.org/events or call 631-757-9859. Proceeds from the tour support the society’s mission to preserve and promote the history of Northport and its surrounding communities.