By Beverly C. Tyler
The celebration of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was first called, began when the first proclamation for a day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers killed in the Civil War was made on May 5, 1868 by General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.
He declared, “It is the purpose of the commander-in-chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept from year to year.”
May 30 was chosen as the day, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during the late rebellion.” In 1873 New York State recognized Memorial Day as an official holiday and many other states followed during the next few decades.
In the Three Villages, Memorial Day is observed with ceremonies, first in Stony Brook and then in Setauket.
In Stony Brook, a plaque first dedicated on July 6, 1946 states, “This tablet is erected and dedicated, as an abiding memorial and as a token of the affectionate esteem of grateful citizens, to those gallant young men and women of the Stony Brook community who, in obedience to their country’s call, courageously offered their lives in World War I and World War II to maintain the American principles of liberty and justice.”
The large rock on the Setauket Village Green was added in 1919 to honor the men who died in the First World War. A plaque to honor the men who died in World War II was added in 1946. A new plaque honors the young man, Chris Brunn, who died in Vietnam in 1969. The soldiers honored here were from families who immigrated to Setauket from England, Scotland, Ukraine, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Ireland, Germany, France and Italy.
Two men from the local area gave their lives in World War I, Raymond Wishart and Harry Golden. The massive boulder and south-facing bronze tablet were erected on the Setauket Village Green in their memory. The boulder was brought from Strong’s Neck and the plaque was designed by the well-known artist William DeLeftwich Dodge who painted the murals on New York history that are in the state capital in Albany.
Private Raymond Wishart, son of Postmaster and Mrs. Andrew Wishart, was born September 10, 1893, and he died in France on August 23, 1918. His remains were returned to this country and were buried in the Caroline Church of Brookhaven graveyard on a Sunday in July 1921.
Harry Golden is remembered by his nephew Sam Golden. “He was a Sergeant in charge of the mules, “ Sam recalled. “His unit was attacked and he was killed. He was 28 years old when he died and he’s buried there in France.”
On the opposite side of the rock is a plaque that was placed there after World War II. It reads, “1941-1945 – In memory of Clifford J. Darling, Henry P. Eichacker, Francis S. Hawkins, David Douglas Hunter, Orlando B. Lyons, Anthony R. Matusky, Edward A. Pfeiffer, [and] William E. Weston of the United States Armed Forces who gave their lives in World War II.”
The graves of these soldiers, who served during the two World Wars, are marked by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3054. The grave of Francis S. Hawkins, Tech. Sgt., 853 AAF Bomb Squadron, is also in the Caroline Church of Brookhaven graveyard, near the stone of Raymond Wishart, and it details his service. “The son of Everett Hawkins, the last miller in Setauket, and Celia Swezey was born in Setauket on June 18, 1911. He volunteered in the U.S. Army Air Force Sept. 24, 1942.
On Nov. 25, 1944 he gave his life to his country while on his 28th bombing mission over enemy lines, when his plane “The Moose” was shot down over Hanover and crashed near Gehrden, Germany.”
The graves of patriots who served in the Revolutionary War are not forgotten, either. There are thirty Patriot graves in the Three Village area that have been identified and marked with flags, including Anna Smith Nancy Strong, her husband Selah Strong and Culper Spy chief Abraham Woodhull. The graves are in eight separate graveyards, some of which are family burial grounds.
After ceremonies on the Setauket Village Green, units of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, fire departments and other community organizations parade each year to the Memorial Park in East Setauket for the final services of the day. The brief tribute honoring those who served, and especially those who died in the service of their country, is an experience that should be observed and renewed each year.
Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.