By the middle of the morning Sunday, nearly 1,000 American flags had been set up on the grass on the west side of the historic Cutchogue Presbyterian Church. A dozen or more members of the church and their pastor, Richard King, were waiting for the special guest to arrive.
In honor of Veterans Day, which is celebrated nationally on Nov. 11, the church wanted to hold a special event ahead of time for one of its members, Irv Pitman, a World War II veteran who recently turned 105.
“We are hoping he will come,” said Mr. King, who along with the others waited outside the church. “He’s been having some issues and we are pulling for him. I think it’s 50-50 he will be able to come.”
A few minutes after 11 a.m., the guest of honor arrived, seated in the passenger seat of a car driven by his son, John, with whom he lives in Southold. Irv Pitman did not get out of the car, but every person waiting for him reached in through the passenger side window to thank him for coming and to tell him how much they appreciate him. The words “he’s a wonderful man,” and “he’s very humble” were heard repeatedly.
“You are a man of honor,” one woman told him as she reached in to hold his hand. “You know, we love you.”
For years, Mr. Pitman has been a presence at Veterans Day events and scores of others at places such as the American Legion Post on Main Road in Southold. He is often described as the oldest World War II veteran in the region, and for that reason alone he is a treasured by other veterans. When Mr. Pitman turned 103, his son John brought him to the Legion Post, where he sat in a cushioned chair and watched as dozens of automobiles, including town police cars and trucks from several local fire departments, greeted him with a birthday parade. He waved to every passing motorist.
As the country honors its veterans on the day an armistice was declared that ended the slaughter on the European fields of World War I — the fighting stopped at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month — vets such as Mr. Pitman are treated with great respect, just as those who greeted him outside the Presbyterian Church did Sunday morning.
Mr. Pitman is a retired dentist who, during World War II, served in Italy, where he established a dental clinic for soldiers in Florence in a railroad station built by Mussolini. He was born May 19, 1917 — a year and a half before World War I ended. He and his wife began spending summers in Southold back in 1920, when the North Fork was a very different sort of place.
As everyone waited for Mr. King to speak by the flags, John Pitman told a reporter his father has not been well recently and had just gotten out of the hospital. “He’s slipping,” John Pittman said. “He was very dehydrated. We are glad he came home.”
A few minutes later, Mr. King lead a prayer for the nation, and “for those who in times and places have been true and brave, and in the world’s common ways have lived upright lives and ministered to their fellow human beings.” He went on to say, “And for those who served their country in its hour of need, and especially for those who gave their lives in that service.”
The words were meant for Mr. Pitman in particular, but to all those who are honored on Veterans Day.