There was barely an open spot from which to view the Memorial Day Parade on Main Street in Farmingdale Monday. The street was as packed with onlookers as the procession was with marchers, while the community took time to honor those who sacrificed their lives in defense of our nation.
A veteran raises the American flag for his fallen comrades, and the gesture is accompanied by a unified salute, during ceremonies following Farmingdale's Memorial Day Parade.
There were over 550 participants in the procession, which was marked by bright sunshine and temperatures in the 80s. Marchers included local veterans organizations, Knights of Columbus, Columbiettes, Sons of Italy, Boy and Girl Scouts, Farmingdale, South Farmingdale and East Farmingdale fire departments, marching bands, including one from Howitt School and one from Farmingdale High School, and local dignitaries.
Along with Farmingdale Fire Department ex-Chief Keith Ryan, the grand marshal, veterans led the procession, and were met with applause from crowds of children who sat waving American flags, their parents and other onlookers.
"This is one of the biggest turnouts I've ever seen. Every year it gets bigger and bigger," said Steve Smith, a resident of Farmingdale for 23 years as he watched the celebration. "And I feel very proud of Farmingdale. They really show their spirit. They show their support of their children, and of their veterans."
A memorial service for fallen war heroes followed the parade on the Farmingdale Village Green. During it, representatives from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 516 of Farmingdale, the group's Ladies Auxiliary, and representatives of the local fire departments placed wreaths in front of the war memorials located on the green. Shots were also fired and the American flag raised for the fallen comrades.
"This is the most solemn day of the year. We must never forget," Farmingdale Village Mayor Joseph Trudden told the crowd of people who remained for the ceremony, noting that the community must persist in teaching its children that the holiday is for those who lost their lives defending our country. He also thanked Farmingdale Kiwanis for lining the streets with flags, and the Village Beautification Committee for decorating the community with flowers.
"Never forget them," Nassau Legislator Salvatore B. Pontillo said of the fallen war heroes as he took the podium. "You're the best. This is my favorite event of the year, and I'm so glad you all stuck around."
Town of Oyster Bay Councilman Joseph Muscarella added, "Let us all remember: freedom is never free...Keep our military in your prayers."
The ceremonies also featured 11-year-old Victoria Tortoso singing the national anthem. According to her father, Farmingdale Fire Department Chief Don Tortoso, this was the first time a youngster has sung the anthem at the event. In addition, the community honored James "Jimmy" McKenna for participating in his 80th consecutive Farmingdale Memorial Day Parade.
As the crowd dispersed, heading to barbecues and other festivities, Scott Lorenzen, Farmingdale Fire Department's first assistant chief and organizer of the the day's events, expressed pleasure with the high turnout at both the parade and ceremonies. "I think that everybody did the right thing and came out and supported the veterans," he said.
As James McKenna rode through Main Street in the passenger seat of a shiny Chrysler convertible Monday, waving to his friends, he displayed a smile as big as his attachment to Farmingdale.
When he finished the Memorial Day Parade route, the 90-year old, who started marching in the procession as a boy, had 80 consecutive years of participation under his belt.
"It was easy," the amiable, life-member of the Farmingdale Fire Department said when asked how he accomplished the feat.
Known as "Jimmy," McKenna was honored by the Village of Farmingdale and the fire department during ceremonies following the parade. Surrounded by friends and his wife Dorothy, Jimmy received a plaque from Mayor Joseph Trudden. Asked how he felt about the recognition, he said, "It was terrific."
McKenna's wife Dorothy was among those who, through the years, has marvelled at his consistent commitment to the parade. "I say to him 'Jimmy, you mean you never had a cold? You never felt lousy?'" she said.
Fire department representatives said they feel McKenna's persistence is indicative of his dedication to both the veterans and his fellow firefighters, and that his presence is a great boon to Farmingdale. "I really feel that it's great for the fire department and for the community," said Farmingdale Fire Department First Assistant Chief Scott Lorenzen.
While an 11-year-old boy at the Nazareth Trade School, a boys' orphanage conducted by the Sisters of St. Dominic in Farmingdale, McKenna first marched in the village's Memorial Day parade as a trumpeter with the "trade school" band. McKenna joined the Farmingdale Fire Department after leaving the orphanage. He also served as the village's clerk-treasurer until his retirement in 1975.
McKenna now resides in a nursing home in St. James. According to his wife, Dorothy, who lives nearby him in St. James, because she could not transport him to the parade this year, members of the Farmingdale Fire Department's Junior Brigade picked him up. They were not about to let him miss it. And, said, Jimmy, he's not about to miss it next year. Asked by a friend whether he'll be at next year's parade, he said, "You bet your life I am."