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North Shore veterans celebrated with car parades 

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In the past, the sounds of beeping, sirens and cheers may have been a rare occurrence. But these days, it’s the average soundtrack of an oncoming car parade.

Glen Cove resident Roni Jenkins founded the Facebook group, “Car parade birthday and celebrations drive-bys - Long Island North Shore,” in late April after a conversation with her friend, Lynda Hickey. They both realized that there weren't many car parades perusing down North Shore streets like in other communities in Long Island. They wanted that to change. 

What started as a small operation between some friends has become a daily, booming event. “Some days there’s eight [car parades],” Jenkins said. “It’s just really kind of taken off. In the beginning there were a few cars and as more and more people now have found their way to the page, they're requesting more parties and then more people are joining in.”

On Memorial Day, the group organized four parades. The parade schedule spanned from morning to late afternoon, starting at 9:45 a.m. on Ninth Street in Locust Valley, the spot that the annual Locust Valley Memorial Day Parade would usually start. The parade was requested by Locust Valley resident Michael M. Harrington, who wanted to make sure fallen soldiers and veterans were still honored despite the annual parade’s cancellation. 

As cars filled with passengers from as near as Locust Valley to as far as Sea Cliff and Glen Cove, paraded the streets, local residents waved flags and cheered from their front lawns that Memorial Day morning. Harrington did not anticipate such a large attendance. “I was thinking maybe four or five cars would show up,” Harrington said.

Jenkins and the “Happy Squad” were not done yet. Next up was a birthday celebration in Glen Cove at 12 p.m. for a nine-year-old boy named Jonathan, followed by a birthday celebration in Sea Cliff at 2:45 for an 11-year-old named Oliver. 

“There’s a little bit of coordinating I have to do to make sure we get them all in,” Jenkins said. “Even though it’s generally a bunch of strangers, this is just kind people out there wanting to bring cheer.” 

And that it did. “It was amazing to see how many people took time out of their day to celebrate his birthday,” said Jonathan’s mother, Jodiann Becker-Mora. “Both my husband and I are essential workers and we just wanted to make sure his birthday was special for him just like we have done in years past.”

His birthday was made special, with cards, balloons and gifts from members of his community, along with a visit from the Glen Cove Volunteer Fire Department, Glen Cove Police Department and City of Glen Cove EMS. 

Fellow Glen Cove resident, Kerri O’Neill was also concerned that her loved one would miss out on a special day during the pandemic. On Memorial Day, her 96-year-old father Bob O’Neill, a WWII veteran that stormed the beaches of Normandy, would normally be attending a picnic at the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Glen Cove. 

“I wanted to make it special for him,” Kerri said. “He said ‘I can’t believe they came out for me. I served my country because I was proud to.’”

Sirens blared from [olice cars, fire trucks and ambulances down Hill Street in Glen Cove, followed by cars with passengers from Glen Cove, Sea Cliff, Glenwood Landing, Glen Head and Oyster Bay. The sounds of car horns, cheers and Glen Cove resident Robert Lynch’s bagpipes echoed through the suburban neighborhoods, bringing neighbors out to their front lawns to watch the commotion.

After the cars cleared, Glen Cove Councilman Gaitley Stevenson-Mathews sang “America the Beautiful” to Bob O’Neill. “It just brings tears to your eyes,” Kerri said.

When the pandemic lifts and life goes back to normal, Jenkins hopes that birthday parties and other celebrations can resume once again. But until then, these individuals who were once strangers will continue to bring smiles from front lawn to front stoop. 

“The way that New Yorkers are, we come together and through it and we make each other stronger,” Jenkins said.