He only asks for a moment of your time ... But to Ed Segall, the owner of the Sea Gulls' Nest, on Sandy Hook, that moment represents a lifetime of service — his own, his family's and the countless men and women who have served their nation and communities throughout centuries of our American history.
Each day, for the last 27 years, from May to September, as the sun sets over Earle Naval Base pier, that juts out into the bay in the Leonardo section of Middletown, Segall asks the patrons and staff of his beachside, national park-based restuarant to pause. In that moment of pause, he asks them to consider the sacrifice and duty of all people who work to keep Americans safe and free.
"People come here to have a good time, to drink and eat," Segall said. "But I ask them to take time out to think about the men and women who wear a uniform who put their lives on the line every day every year for us."
For Segall, a distinguished, silver-bearded gentlemen, who wears the years of his life gracefully, the sunset tribute, though dedicated to the whole, stems from a poignant personal place.
Himself a veteran of the post World War II Japanese occupation, serving under Douglas MacArthur, Segall also comes from a long line of military family members. "My dad was an immigrant from Romania who fought in World War I," he said. "When he died at 49 and left six boys and three girls this state and country gave us food and clothes and shoes."
Four of Segall's brothers went on to serve their nation in World War II. His older brother Seymour, who he described as a "shy kid," was killed in action on the first day of the battle of Normandy. His serviceman portrait hangs on the wall at the Sea Gulls' Nest, staring out in framed black and white, forever young and forever on his younger brother's mind.
"I remember visiting Omaha Beach where my brother was killed," he said. It was raining; and, as they started to lower the flag they played the Star Spangled Banner and the French people were crying."
Moments like that were inspiration for Segall's sunset tribute. "It made me think," he said, "that we should take time out to remember the fathers and brothers and sisters that we lost to war and for those who are still at war."
Like something out of a Steven Spielberg film, the sun's light bent from golden to orange upon the Nest as the moment had arrived. Segall disappeared.
Minutes later, as recorded trumpets played, his voice echoed around the bar calling for the attention of the patrons. With nearly three decades of sunset experience, Segall's address timed out perfectly with each drum roll and trumpet flourish. His voice, with equal measures of timbre and gentleness, invited observance and tears from the crowd of hand-holding sun gazers.
"As the sun sets over Earle Naval Base folks," he said, "when we sing God Bless America tonight, they're going to blink their lights. So we take time out to experience a moment of grace to remember all of those who serve for all of us all over the world."
As the song and the ceremony concluded tears flowed, applause went up and the sun completed its descent.
"I'm a sentimental guy," Segall concluded. "I came up the hard way, without a father, selling soda at eight years old and because of this great country I was able to make it ... and now I'm giving back."
For more information about the Sea Gulls' Nest, check them out on the website.
To experience this rare and stirring sunset tribute firsthand, check them out on the Hook.