The Montauk veterans and artists are at odds over which group should get to use the Village Green Memorial Day weekend, but it would also appear an all-out war has begun over the green's intended purpose.
An ad hoc veterans group has asked the East Hampton Town Board permission to hold three days worth of events, starting Saturday, honoring those who have served, on and around the green, under the flagpole and next to the war memorials. Events, such as a parade and flag-raising, would displace the Montauk Artists' Association 5th annual Juried Art Show and Sale, scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the holiday weekend.
The veterans organization, led by Montauk resident Ken Walles, submitted paperwork for a mass gathering permit first, according to Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. The fight between the two organizations has been brewing for some time, Wilkinson said. For the inaugural parade and ceremony last May, the two organizations comprimised, sharing the area.
This year, Wilkinson said he asked them to do the same, but the veterans were not so willing.
Walles said that he wants to set up 4X8 boards with information about the wars on the green on Satruday. Then, on Sunday, a parade will start at noon and end at the green for a ceremony. Monday, revely, flag-raising, Taps and other ceremonies will be performed.
He suggested the art show move to Lion's Field, which is off Main Street, or to Second House Museum, which is further west on Main Street and is owned by the Montauk Historical Society.
"We've never had a conflict like this before," Wilkinson said, adding that it would make job would be a lot easier if the two organizations could come to an agreement. He said a decision won't be made until he hears back from the artists association.
"I'm obviously biased by my veteran status," Wilkinson said. But, he also added it may be best to return to the original purpose of the green, for use by non-commercial entities, as well as going back to the roots of Memorial Day.
"Most of the artists come from out of town," Walles said, who is also a business owner and chamber member. He added he's noticed all the events trample all over the grass at the war memorial at the green. "Somewhere along the time, you have to draw the line."
Walles, who is not a veteran and calls himself a patriot, said, "The kids are forgetting what Memorial Day is all about." He said there are about 100 to 150 veterans in Montauk. "I'm not against the artists, but who fought the wars?"
"This is not really the artists' association against the veterans," Montauk chamber president Paul Monte said. "There's a definite sentiment amongst a group of people . . . that the green shouldn't be used for anything with a commercial link."
It's a movement the chamber is afraid is gaining momentum. It sent out a mass email on Wednesday asking members to speak out at a town board meeting on Thursday night or email town board members.
Several events take place on the green throughout the year including the chamber's Fall Festival, the weekly farmers market that raised $4,000 for the food pantry this year, the Montauk Library's book sale and Music on the Green.
The artists' association is a not-for-profit organization that runs the in Montauk. It has typically held two fine art shows per summer on the green (the other is scheduled for Aug. 17, 18 and 19) The art show is no longer sponsored by the chamber (though it does sell hot dogs and hamburgers there that raises a few hundred dollars for the chamber). Still, Monte said if it leave the green, downtown businesses will feel the impact.
"The art show brings hundreds of thousands of dollars to Montauk," from the motels to the restaurants, he said. He considers it as a destination, even on Memorial Day weekends that don't bring good weather. "War displays on the green are not a draw," he said.
The Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee lent its support to the veterans during a meeting on Monday night. The vote was 12 in favor, 1 opposed and 3 abstentions, to have the veterans at the green and move the art show elsewhere.
A concern raised was that the art show brings an increase in traffic congestion from the Surf Lodge -- even though Lion's Field is actually closer to the restaurant than the green.
Monte said he in favor of setting aside the actual holiday to honor veterans -- his father was a D-Day vet. "I'm the biggest patriot you'll find," he said. "The reality is Memorial Day is Monday."