As children smiled and waved American flags, adults reclined on beach chairs, sipping coffee, others readied cameras, and quite a few lined the parade route with their canine friends, the annual Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 28 proceeded, as stirring as ever. When the parade ended at the Sousa band shell on lower Main Street, a meaningful observance followed, reminding all why those American men and women who lost their lives serving their country, must never be forgotten.
The parade got off to a wonderful start, thanks to the grand marshals, Sal Condoluci and Karol Szaja, whose smiles and waves were heartwarming. All of the veterans' groups -- the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Marines, and others -- were striking and impressive. Heartfelt applause was offered to Mrs. William Zwerlein, the Gold Star Mother, as she rode in a convertible through the parade route. The marching bands from Schreiber High School and Weber Middle School, gave wonderful depth, musically, to the day's meaning. And it was hard to resist the sounds of Manhattan College's Pipes and Drums group.
Many community organizations marched in the parade as well, from PAL and PYA to Littig House and the Children's Center. The dapper Knights of Columbus were only slightly outdone by the lovely Columbiettes. The resplendent Great Neck - PW Elks (Lodge 1543) and Does were not to be missed; nor were the always-dashing John Michael Marino Lodge 1389 - Sons of Italy.
Applauded and cheered by the crowds were those men and women who work tirelessly fighting local fires. These heroes, marching in Protection Engine Co #1, Flower Hill Hose Co. No. 1, and the Fire Medics Co. #1, PW, and other groups, were led by Stanley Borkowski, upon whom the honor of Fire Dept. Grand Marshal was bestowed this year.
Once the Sousa Bandshell was reached, crowds gathered around the stage, to listen to words of remembrance. Tributes were paid not only in speech but in music.
In charge of the Observance was Arthur George, commander of American Legion Post 509. "Let's honor those who died for our country...let's never, never, never, forget them," he urged the attendees. He was joined onstage by the H.S. band, and many distinguished guests, including Legislator Craig Johnson, PW Police Commissioners Sal Zimbardi and Jim Duncan, Fire Chief Walter Trapp, the Grand Marshals, and other honored veterans and guests. As always, an empty folding chair stood onstage a stark symbol of the missing in action and prisoners of war.
Floyd Mackey, American Legion Post 509 Chaplain, masterfully gave the Invocation; Daniel Blassucci commander of VFW Post 1819 followed, leading the "Pledge of Allegiance." The grand marshals were ably introduced, and expressed gratitude for being selected for this honor.
As always, veteran and American Legion member Herb Strauss, with the H.S. Band, lent his soaring voice to The Star Spangled Banner, somehow managing to shed new meaning on these very-familiar lyrics. Later, Jane Murphy's beautiful voice illuminated America the Beautiful.
Past Commander of the American Legion Post, Bob Click provided a warm introduction for Rev. Monsignor Daniel Picciano of St. Peter of Alcantara Church. Referring to the men and women who lost their lives serving their nation, he prayed that we might "draw from their example of self-sacrifice and love...and build a better country. God bless each of our veterans."
Veteran Arthur Wade had strong and moving words to impart. This is "a day that reminds us that sacrifice must be remembered," he said, and then brought to mind a beloved friend and veteran, Donald May, whose recent passing was a tragic loss. His widow was present, and all were clearly moved when seeing the raising of the Donald May Memorial Flag by veterans Larry Tuck and Ray Slavinsky.
This moving moment was extended further when H.S. Band bugler Brian Jacobs played a haunting rendition of Taps. First Vice Commander of American Legion Post 509 presented the wreaths that flanked the stage; these Memorial Day remembrances were provided by the Fire Department, the Elks and Does, the Marino Lodge, Polish-American Citizens organization, Knights of Columbus and Columbiettes, and the VFW and AL. Bob Click encouraged attendees to take a moment, and thank a veteran.
The Rev. Kurt Von Roeschlaub of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church followed, praying for the strength and safety of those serving in the armed forces, with the hope that good would come of their efforts. "Fill us with gratitude for those who made peace and safety, a greater reality," he said. Warren Schein, PW Chamber of Commerce, led an enthusiastic rendition of God Bless America, and the observance came to a close after the general order of dismissal from the grand marshals.
As the crowd slowly dispersed, individuals went over to veterans, sometimes complete strangers, to thank them, or shake their hands. And undoubtedly, their thoughts were also ones of gratitude to those who made the ultimate sacrifice -- their lives -- so we could enjoy the freedoms and life we have today.