Memorial Day 2020 took on a new look and a new meaning.
At the Scarsdale American Legion Post 52 Memorial Garden, you could see the fingerprints of the COVID-19 pandemic at every turn.
As Post Cmdr. Thomas Adamo pointed out, the ceremony did not include a band or a parade, nor were ceremonies at Boniface Circle or Chase Park, which he called “the essence of Memorial Day,” part of the equation. Instead, attendance was limited by law, everyone had masks on and there was social distancing with chairs spread far apart on the lawn.
“Yet it has not stopped the beat of our hearts, which is our inner band of love for all who have perished,” Adamo said to the fewer than two dozen veterans, spouses and law enforcement officials in attendance. “Never let it be said the village of Scarsdale and/or the Scarsdale American Legion have forgotten the tribute to all who have given the ultimate sacrifice.”
Adamo noted this was the 100th Memorial Day service in Scarsdale. Following the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, there was no event in 1919. “We didn’t have one in 1919, but we have one now,” he said.
Adamo was originally instructed by many different parties to scrap plans for the day, but he pushed for about a dozen veterans to come and got a few more than expected. The regulations said that, despite there being an acre and a half of open space at the garden, only 10 people could gather. While he wasn’t going to crowd the place, he knew the ceremony had to go on despite the pandemic. “This thing had to happen,” he said.
Adamo thanked the police for “making sure we didn’t overstep our bounds.”
A solemn day became even moreso for the local veterans who, in addition to honoring those who were lost in battle since the Revolutionary War — the monuments at the garden do go back that far — also remembered four members of Post 52 who died of coronavirus last month: Marco Bisceglia, Lawrence Brown, John De Palermo and Barrie Mabie.
Adamo told the crowd they were, “Four noble men who served their country, dodged bullets in war time, only to succumb to this deadly coronavirus.”
“We’re getting knocked off one after another,” Adamo said after the ceremony. “We lost four in just April. We got eight new members in the beginning of the year and that was the first time we hit 100 for Post 52. Now we’re back down. We’re looking for people to join. It’s really a Legion of friends. It’s a camaraderie that can’t be surpassed.”
Lenny Slatin, who was in the Air Force from 1965-66, wishes more people appreciated Memorial Day more as a remembrance than a beach and barbecue weekend. “People just take for granted that it’s the start of summer without realizing the sacrifice that people made, what they sacrificed in their lifetime for this country,” he said. “I honestly feel they don’t appreciate it as much, especially the younger generation today.”
Slatin said he wanted to bring his wife to the ceremony, but she was recently in a car accident and is home recovering.
“We love these gardens,” Slatin said. “This is an incredible place. It’s little known. They should publicize this more. Students should come here. The schools should bring them here. Every time I come I’m still fascinated looking at all the monuments. To go back to the Revolutionary War that they have all this documentation. They do a fantastic job. Tom is a terrific commander.”
One of the major themes of the day was honoring not only those lost in battle and those who survived, but those who are fighting the pandemic, a war of a much different nature. The front-line hospital workers and first responders are among those who were on everyone’s minds Monday morning.
“We cannot forget their bravery as they fought bullets and bombs, and we certainly cannot forget our good citizens of Westchester County who have not given up, but continue to fight this hidden pandemic which has slowed us up, but not beaten us down,” Adamo said in his speech. “You and all who have fought this evil virus are the true heroes, and rate a place in time with all those who have passed while serving their country and God. So to all those who have suffered the loss of lives either by war or pandemic, let me thank you for your bravery.”
Former Scarsdale Mayor Dr. Miriam Levitt Flisser represented the village, giving a speech that was inspired by Vito Pinto of the Bronxville American Legion.
“We remember those who fought so bravely, who, with tireless courage, never refused to sacrifice for our freedom,” she said. “Today, we will add our medical heroes, who are so unselfish in this time of trial, as they answered the call to duty…
“The Greatest Generation was defined by their response to WWII. They too missed their graduations, and other happy lifetime experiences, by leaving school to fight for our country… This Memorial Day we set aside time to remember, reflect and respect the brave men and women who made the sacrifice in defense of the people of our nation — each and every one of them.”
Rick Rivera, who served in the Army from 1976 to 1998, likened the front-line workers to the heroes of war. “You don’t even think about it — you just go ahead and do what you’ve got to do for the common good,” he said.
Rick Reuter served in the Coast Guard from 1965-71 and also credited today’s new breed of heroes. “This is probably the first crisis anyone in your generation has seen and when our liberty is threatened people step up to serve as these health care workers have stepped up to serve during this COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “It’s really pretty remarkable when you think about these people. They risk their lives like a combat soldier would.”
Due to the pandemic, members of the post hadn’t met up since early March, but there have been a lot of check-in phone calls and care packages. “Just like everybody, we’re trying to survive,” Rivera said.
The veterans tried to plant flags on Mother’s Day, but got shut out, and the only place they could find to place flags in advance of Memorial Day was at St. James the Less Church. “There were no fences, no boundaries and nobody was there to bother us,” Adamo said.
Adamo is now worried about Flag Day on June 14, another major event for the veterans. They’ve missed their April and May meetings, trips and meals, and June events likely won’t happen either.
“Normally we get together once a month,” said Terry Geil, who served in the Army from 1958-60 and 1961-62. “We’ve been all locked in the houses, so we don’t even realize it. It’s nice to see everyone today. It’s enjoyable.”
While the small Memorial Day gathering was a positive, Geil was thinking about those who never got to see their families again. “You think about all the guys that got killed,” he said. “You pray for them and you hope that doesn’t happen anymore.”
Rivera is one of the younger members of Post 52 at age 61. For veterans, however, age doesn’t matter. “It’s a common bond I share with the older veterans,” Rivera said.
John Boggi presented the American Flag on Monday. Not only is he a former Marine reserve from 1993-2001, but he graduated from Scarsdale High School in 1989 and he’s been a Scarsdale police officer since 2002.
“It’s a great community,” Boggi said. “I grew up here, I know the people here and the people are great here. I do Post 4 down in the village, which is the bike patrol, community policing. You get to see a lot of people and help people out. It’s great.”
His father, Anthony, who died in 2014, served in the Army, was a mechanic for the village of Scarsdale for 32 years and was a member of Post 52.
“I always wanted to do it,” Boggi said of his service. “In the Marine Corps I met a lot of good people. It’s a great thing to do. I’m proud to have served for my country.”
It was especially meaningful for Boggi to participate in Monday’s remembrance. “It’s great they got together in a small gathering,” Boggi said. “I know it’s a tough time right now for everybody.”
While Post 52 has lost four veterans to the virus, some have gotten COVID-19 and recovered, including Adamo and his wife. He believes they picked it up in a rehabilitation center/nursing home after his wife was recovering from a fractured hip in February and later from pneumonia. She’s home now, but Adamo, who said he took hydrochloroquine for four days to “knock out the virus,” hadn’t seen her over two months.
“She was alone and she recovered, I was alone and I recovered,” Adamo said. “I thank God for people that worried about me in my family. They wouldn’t get close to me, but they’d drop food at the door, ring the bell and run.”
It hasn’t been easy for the veterans, most of whom are in the most vulnerable population and have been isolated, some in nursing homes.
“I think everything started a little late,” Reuter said. “We didn’t realize how severe this was going to be. There’s no road map for anything like this, so everybody kind of just played it from the hip. It was just do what you have to. We put a lot of faith in our elected officials and our elected officials put a lot of faith in the medical people, who don’t know too much about it either, so it’s all a question of doing the best you can.”
Rivera said, “All the elected officials are doing a great job. I just don’t like when everybody starts pointing fingers of we should have done this. How do you predict what’s going to go on?”
Bill Gray, who served in the Coast Guard from 1942-46, said he hasn’t seen any of his friends negatively impacted by the pandemic.
“I go by what [President Donald] Trump is advising, which is to get out, but abide by the rules,” Gray said. “Keep your distance and so forth. I think he’s doing a marvelous job. I really do.”
He added, “I just hope that this will go away maybe before the year is out. I really have faith in what’s going on right now. Hopefully it can do the trick and bring us back. It’s going to be different, but it’s a great country. To be here and live here and be so free is good and it’s all because of the veterans. When you see these young fellas going in [the service] today and sacrificing their lives it’s unbelievable.”
Adamo joined the post 17 years ago at the urging of then-Cmdr. Eugene Rogliano Sr. “He said, ‘I’m leaving the Legion to you in two years — take care of it,’” Adamo said. “We’re very, very happy with the group we have. We have our monthly meeting the first Wednesday of every month except for July and August. Am I going to have a June meeting? I don’t think so. But we follow our orders. If you were in the service you followed your orders.”