The friendship between Ralph Casey and Matthew Blass began over tea and bagels. But it was the removal of a pile of weeds that drew the men closer — so much so that Blass, a co-owner of Sea Cliff Bagel Café, agreed to become the first business in town to fulfill the dream of his favorite customer, Casey, to fly the American flag outside his store every day. And last Friday, the bagel shop, which is co-owned by Navy veteran Vincent Cefalu, became the first business to be honored for doing so by Glenwood Landing American Legion Post 336.
Casey is fond of telling the story of how his idea came to him. “I used to go to Matthew’s store every morning, and got to know him,” recalled Casey, who was the chaplain for the legion post for 11 years and the chaplain of the Nassau County Legislature in 2017. “I noticed that there were a lot of weeds out front, so I started weeding.”
Casey can still remember Blass’s surprise. “He asked what I was doing,” Casey said. “I said, ‘Pulling the weeds,’ and when Matthew asked why, I said, ‘Because it seemed like the right thing to do.’”
Blass said he offered to pay Casey, but he refused the offer. He had a better idea, which he shared with Blass after a month of weeding last spring.
There was an empty flag pole among the weeds, which made Casey think of the displays of American flags he had seen while traveling around northern New York. “When you go to the little towns upstate, almost every store has a flag,” he said. “In the Midwest, it seems like every house has a flag on it, too. I looked around Sea Cliff and Glen Head, and saw that there were only a few flags outside the stores, and those flags were ripped and shredded.”
He asked Blass if he would fly a flag outside his store. Blass agreed to do so, and shared the idea with Charles Faulkner, a Korean War veteran he had recently hired. Faulkner was grateful, Blass said, to be working somewhere where the flag would be flown.
There are actually two flag poles outside the shop, but one has been broken for a while, Blass said. When he opened the business in 2006, both poles were operational, and Blass said he was proud to fly four flags, two American flags as well as a Navy and a POW flag. He flew a single American flag in January, but it was damaged, he said, and taken down.
Vincent J. Cefalu, the son of the shop’s co-owner, said his father was also a Korean War veteran. “I believe in this country, and there’s only one way to express that — with a flag,” the younger Cefalu said. “Anything we can do to be patriotic and support our vets, we do. They are the people who deserve to be honored and respected. Freedom doesn’t come free.”
Blass said he was happy to put the American and POW flags up two weeks ago. The Glenwood legion’s color guard took part in the ceremony that Casey and former post Commander Bill Landerer arranged. It was a beautiful ceremony, Blass said, that included the Prayer for the Flag, which is read during the community’s annual Flag Day ceremony, when legion members burn old, tattered flags.
“We want to instill in people’s minds that flying the flag is a normal thing to do,” Landerer explained. “Now people put a flag out only on holidays.”
“I’d love to see flags all down Glen Head Road,” said Richie Lindblom, a member of the color guard.
Another member, Carl Ring, said he sees the flying of flags outside businesses as a statement. “It would make the community more aware of the veterans,” he said, “especially the Vietnam veterans who, when they came home, people were against.”
Casey, who presented Blass with a thank-you label for the shop’s window, said he was encouraged, and planned to speak to other store owners about following its lead.