Memorial Day is the day on which we remember and honor all the American service men and women who have given their lives so we may live our lives in freedom. This year, after the events of September 11 and with many of our brave men and women engaged in the conflict overseas, the number to whom we owe our freedom has, once again, increased. It was with this knowledge that the people of Port Washington, and throughout America, gathered to cheer the service men and women who have served our country and the people who make a difference in our community.
Despite the meteorologists' promise of rain, the weather was as enthusiastic as the crowd, for Port Washington's 82nd Annual Memorial Day Parade. While the parade participants were gathering on Campus Drive, residents of Port Washington, adorned with flags, coffee cups and cameras, thronged along the boulevard and Main Street down to the parade's end at Sunset Park. The day was colored red, white and blue not only by flags but also patriotic scarves, hair-scrunchies, ribbons, T-shirts and sun-visors.
A police motorbike led the way, weaving slowly to maintain the slow march of the parade and stopping every now and then to return the energetic waves from the onlookers. A ripple of cheers and applause rolled down the streets as John Weaver, this year's honorable Grand Marshall, rode proudly in the first car followed by two green Port Authority police cars and another vintage vehicle carrying Gold Star Mother, Ruth Zwerlein.
The biggest heroes of the day were of course the veterans, including members of Marine Corps League, Port Washington Detachment No. 614, American Legion Post No. 509 and Henderson-Marino Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post No. 1819. These men and women, who have risked their lives in so many American conflicts, march to honor their comrades who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The other heroes of the day were the police and fire departments of Port Washington who, resplendent in their uniforms, remind us that there are men and women who strive to serve and protect our community everyday.
This year the crowd appeared larger than previous years and more organizations participated in the parade, some for the first time ever. Among the newcomers were members of the United States Postal Service, proudly displaying the postal service flag and escorted by one of their delivery vans. Cheerleaders followed, dressed in blue and white, performing a well-synchronized routine with their pom-poms to the rousing music of the Port Washington High School Band. The parade participants continued to be colorful and varied with St. Francis Hospital staff in their green uniforms and Community Chest of Port Washington carrying banners naming some of the many community groups they support. Seniors of Port Washington were juxtaposed with Port Washington Children's Center whose ranks included their pet white mice. A large number of schools, Girl Scout and Brownie Troops were represented throughout the parade and other youth groups included Scout Troop 241, Port Youth Activities and the Police Athletic League.
As the parade approached the John Philip Sousa Memorial Band Shell, a Town of North Hempstead Parks and Recreation mobile unit was strategically placed holding town dignitaries including the police commissioners, leaders of the fire and police departments, church leaders and of course this year's Grand Marshall John Weaver. Warren Shein, president of the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce, announced the different organizations as they approached and the dignitaries and onlookers showered them with applause.
John Michael Marino Order of the Sons of Italy made an excellent job of presenting themselves to the officials while their band played God Bless America. The colorful diversity of our community continued with the Knights of Columbus and Columbettes, the Elks, United Methodist Church and Brotherhood Community Synagogue. The parade concluded with the very impressive emergency vehicles from the four firehouses which serve Port Washington.
At the Sousa Memorial Band Shell Arthur George, Commander of American Legion Post 509, opened the Memorial Day service by welcoming everyone and reminding us it was "a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice." Rev. John Michael Thomas, of Bible Church of Port Washington began the invocation by giving thanks for the great show of patriotism and said, "A special thank you for those in the military who have gone forth, some of which will not come back." He asked us to, "Remember all those who have died so we can be free."
The Pledge of Allegiance followed, led by Bob Click, Past Commander of American Legion Post 509. As in previous years, Herb Strauss, member of American Legion Post 509 and singer extraordinaire, sang The Star Spangled Banner and everyone turned respectfully to the Zwerlein Memorial Flag which flew at half mast throughout the ceremony.
Grand Marshall, John Weaver, made his address saying this was "a Memorial Day like no other" because "not since the war of 1812 has mainland America been subjected to a continental invasion." He cautioned that we, as part of the international community, must address the imbalance of wealth and other resources, which creates the divide between nations that ultimately leads to conflict and terrorism.
Once again everyone joined in song, this time led by Jane Murphy in a soulful rendition of America the Beautiful. Arthur Wade gave the address, which naturally focused on the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the terrorist attacks of September 11. Part of Wade's moving address highlighted the all-pervasive nature of the current conflict with his words, "Once again our military has answered the call to eliminate our enemies and once again the flag draped coffins are returned to grieving families. Unlike previous wars we have been engaged in, this one does not have clearly defined battle zones. If you are an American, you are a target. The battlefield is our own backyard."
Floyd Mackey, Chaplain of American Legion Post 509 said a Memorial Day prayer and gave thanks for "the opportunities which abound in our Land" and asked us to remember and honor "not only those who consecrate our country's soil, but those who sleep across the seas and those whose final resting place will never be known." These poignant words highlighted the lone chair draped with the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action flag which on these occasions represents the soldiers who will never return to America's shores.
Paul Jurkowski, 1st Vice-Commander of American Legion Post 509 presented the wreaths and the Henderson-Marino V.F.W. Post 1819, led by Commander Daniel Blassucci, fired their rifles three times in unison over the water in a salute. This was followed by a haunting rendition of Taps, played by a member of the Schreiber High School Band as the Zwerlein Memorial Flag was raised to full mast by Larry Tuck, Treasurer of American Legion Post 509 and Kevin O'Halperin, Past Commander of Henderson-Marino V.F.W. Post 1819.
Rev. Monsignor Daniel A. Picciano, of St. Peter's Church, gave the benediction and Warren Schein shared a maxim to remind us to be thankful for every day, he said, "Yesterday is a memory. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, that's why it is called the present." He then led us in the final song of the day, God Bless America. Grand Marshall John Weaver closed the proceedings with a military style announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen the proceedings are over. You are dismissed."
We cannot know if next year's Memorial Day will be observed during a time of peace but whatever the future holds we must make every Memorial Day a day to honor and give thanks to the people who are heroes both in times of conflict and times of peace.