Each year, a Glen Cove Memorial Day parade grand marshal is chosen from one of the city’s four military organizations — American Legion Post 76, American Legion Young-Simmons Post 1765, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 347, Marine Corps League Detachment 22 — or the community at large. The choice rotates each year, and the grand marshal represents the city’s commitment to honoring those who have died in combat.
This year, it’s American Legion Post 76’s turn, and it has chosen Robert Curiano who has lived in Glen Cove for nearly all of his 89 years, to lead the parade.
Curiano was born on July 1, 1929, in Brooklyn, to Paul Holland, who worked in a plant that made typewriter ribbons, and his wife, Rose. Robert was the oldest of three children, with a younger brother, Charles, and a younger sister, Annette. The Curianos moved to Glen Cove when Robert was 4, to make his father’s commute to work easier despite his mother’s protestations. Curiano described his mother as a “Brooklyn girl” who never wanted to leave the city.
Nonetheless, the Curianos settled in Glen Cove, and Robert has been there ever since. He grew into a star athlete, captaining the basketball and baseball teams at Glen Cove High School, and played the saxophone in the school band. It was this range of talents, as well as his fun-loving personality, that attracted the attention of his classmate Rose Marie DiRienzo. The two started dating during their senior year of high school, and eventually married on Oct. 6, 1951.
Before they tied the knot, Curiano attended St. Francis College, where he obtained a bachelor’s pre-medical degree. But, he said, “Uncle Sam grabbed my tail,” just after he graduated, and he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1951. He underwent basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.
After 16 weeks in training, half of his company was deployed to Korea, while the other half was sent to Germany. Curiano, however, remained at Fort Jackson, assigned to work as a medic at its hospital. He spent two years there, tending to soldiers who had been wounded in combat overseas.
In 1953, Curiano returned home to Rose Marie and their son, Robert, who was born while he was in South Carolina. The three settled in Glen Cove for good, and eventually there were three more children — Marjorie, born in 1955, Patricia, in 1959, and Thomas, in 1961 — and, over the years, five grandchildren.
Curiano worked at a variety of science-related jobs, first becoming a microbiologist FPR the Nassau County Division of Laboratories and Research. He would go on to work as an environmental scientist and a sanitarian at various laboratories until he retired in 1994.
He is particularly proud of his service, he said, because being a veteran means a great deal to him. “It means that I’m a member of a very large family,” he said. “Going back to the birth of the country … we’ve had a lot of wars, so there are a lot of veterans, dead and alive. I feel like it’s an extended family, like there’s always that touch with people who are serving now and people before me.”
It is this deep appreciation for being a veteran that makes Memorial Day so important to Curiano. As much as he enjoys the parade and the celebrations, he said, Americans need to remember the true meaning of the holiday. “To me, Memorial Day means we are reflecting on the service of men and women who gave up their lives,” he said. “This is really meant [to be] in observance of those who gave it all.”
He said he was extremely proud to be this year’s grand marshal, an honor that Fred Nielsen, chairman of the Memorial Day Parade Committee, said was only fitting. “He has the perspective of years,” Nielsen said. “For all that we pay for suffering as we get older, there’s a richness of judgment and perspective that is priceless, and there’s no shortcut for it.”
Rose Marie said she was also tremendously proud of her husband. “It’s such a privilege and an honor,” she said. “I think it’s great.”
Beyond his work, his family and his presence in the city’s military organizations, Curiano regularly brightens up the day of some of Glen Cove’s oldest residents. As a saxophonist in the Continentals, the Glen Cove Senior Center’s resident band, he plays a key role in keeping spirits high among the community’s seniors, said the center’s executive director, Carol Waldman.
“He’s one of the most kind and generous people you want to meet,” Waldman said. “He’s always ready to help out whenever he can, and because he plays music, he brings light to everyone’s life.”
Waldman said that Curiano is exactly the kind of person who should head such an important event. “He’s got the right kind of spirit and a very beautiful kind of energy about him that makes him a person to lead — not just a parade, but to lead any major event,” she said.
Curiano said he was excited about the parade partly because his age allows him certain transportation privileges. “I’m riding in a very, very [nice] car — it’s gonna be beautiful,” he said. “And I’ve got a driver who’s a retired colonel in the Army. So, isn’t that nice? I’ve got a colonel driving me!”
A memorial ceremony will be held at Monument Park at 11 a.m. on Monday, just before the parade, which will kick off at noon at the corner of Dosoris Lane and Forest Avenue. Marchers will snake their way through downtown Glen Cove before finishing at the Glen Cove Library.