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Memorial Day Remembered

My first memory of Memorial Day is in my youth up in the Italian section of Glen Cove known as “The Orchard.” I knew something was going to happen that day when “Big Ralph” Mastalio put on his World War I uniform. I caught my first glimpse of the parade at the Glen Street Railroad Station. The railroad station is where the parade turned around to go back to Glen Street and end up at the Old Legion Dugout on Pulaski Street. I saw a Civil War veteran and many World War I “Doughboys” that day. Years later I marched in that same parade as a member of the St. Patrick’s School band and then in the Glen Cove High School Band. What impressed me back then and also today is that Glen Cove is a very patriotic city. There are monuments and streets dedicated to the memory of many servicemen in several of the neighborhoods. I also remember during World War II when GIs on leave would march in this parade. Do you remember the first parade after World War II when all the servicemen came home? They would march with trophies of their victories consisting of enemy helmets, rifles and flags. I remember one Marine who carried a Japanese machine gun on his shoulder; he made sure that when he captured this gun on Guadalcanal’s “Bloody Ridge,” he would own it. It took him seven duffel bags to pack it up and send it home to his mother; the late Burt Cocks was the Marine.

The parade always did, and still and does, pay tribute to a “This year’s Guest of Honor.” “Guest of Honor is Rocco Imerti, a World War II Navy man who served our country in the dangerous waters of the Pacific.

I’ve seen history when Anthony “Bengal” Marangiello, a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March and prisoner of war for four years, take the Guest of Honor tribute after years of refusals because he told me, “I want to be remembered for being a Little League coach.” I remember Marine Corpsman Freddy Carbuto who landed on Guadalcanal in 1942 and helped give the victorious Japanese Army its first defeat. Freddy even took his guitar with him in these battles and put Glen Cove on the radio with his hit song, Put Your Gears on Boys that he wrote in between these battles.

Memorial Day lets me reflect on these Glen Covers who went to war and made the ultimate sacrifice. I remember Monday mornings at the Glen Street train station when the enlistees would board the trains to Whitehall Street in New York City. I remember the mothers crying as their sons left to go to war. I remember one mother in particular, who saw four of her sons leave that station. Many of us also remember at least one of those boys - Joseph DiGiovanni nicknamed “Peppy,” from the Orchard. He left on one of those mornings and was killed in action in 1943 while in the Army and fighting on an island in the South Pacific. His mother, who spoke only Italian, kept a vigil at the Glen Street Station every day until she died in the ‘50s. She ignored the government’s infamous telegram she received in 1943. In Mrs. Digiovanni’s mind and with her rosary beads in hand she thought the train that took Peppy away will some day bring him back to her. Every kid in the Orchard walking by the train station after school knew of her plight and no one dared to say anything.

On Memorial Day I will remember those that I knew who never came back home, especially Sal Marafioti who was wounded in the D-Day landing, returned to battle and was killed in action in Germany three weeks before the Nazis surrendered in 1945. I will remember Victor Abate, a Navy man who served on aircraft carrier USS Franklin, a ship that was declared sunk by the Japanese. It was hit by many Japanese Kamikaze planes but it survived and limped back to the states blackened with the bombs that hit it. I went to see that ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard with half its flight deck torn up. I remember Ralph Young, a bright college student who enlisted in the Air Corps and while on one of his many missions, delivering supplies in the India-Burma war zone in 1945, his plane crashed into the Himalayan mountains during a storm. I remember the Orchard’s mailman, Pat Rooney, who always had a baseball in his back pocket and a smile on his face until the day he received a telegram informing him that his son George, a radio operator and a gunner on a B-24, was killed over Germany on his seventh mission. Nobody ever heard the words “mental depression” back then, but looking back now, Pat Rooney was never again the happy-go-lucky mailman we knew who would do tricks with that baseball for all us kids. Glen Cove lost 45 boys in World War II, four in the Korean War, one of them being a high school classmate, Anthony Panetta. Our city also lost eight of our youth in the Vietnam War, one who was my young neighbor, Jack McCarthy, a youngster who came to say goodbye to me at the police station after enlisting in the Army.

I will remember not only these men that I have mentioned but also all of the heroes who served our country this Memorial Day. Hopefully, you will join me.

This year’s committee has been hard at work since early January organizing a wonderful annual Memorial Day Parade that will include the best band. The committee consists of James Middleton, Willibe Wilson, Vinny Martinez, Gordon McQuair, Joe Lavery, Ed Mathieson and myself, the parade’s master of ceremony. Each member represents a Vet.org – see you at noon, May 31, 2010.