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A 'thoughtful' Memorial Day in East Rockaway

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The unofficial start of summer came, appropriately, on a hot, sunny day, highlighted by a community parade that inspired reflection.

“People say, ‘Have a happy Memorial Day,’ but it’s not a happy Memorial Day,” said American Legion Post 958 Commander Shelly G. Conn, speaking to parade-goers and veterans at the conclusion of the annual East Rockaway Memorial Day parade. “It’s a thoughtful Memorial Day, a day to remember those over two million men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”

War, Conn said, is not “an old man’s game,” but takes the youth and the heart of our country. “All service people have written a check to the people of the United States, payable up to and including their ultimate sacrifice.”

The parade, which included local veterans organizations, village officials, the Fire Department, local clubs, Scout troops, the high school marching band and other school and civic groups, made its way to the reviewing stand set up across from Memorial Park on Atlantic Avenue. Village Trustee Ed Corrado officiated at the grandstand.

“This is one of the greatest parades we’ve ever had,” said Joseph McCarthy, commander of the Robert F. Garrison VFW Post No. 3350 and this year’s parade grand marshal. “It’s a day that is at the heart of all veterans … I am a very fortunate guy … I have a great group of veterans, and we’re going to be number one on Long Island!”

Mayor Francis T. Lenahan talked about how the rotunda in Memorial Park came to be, and the research that went into the names on the pillars — names of men who fought in World War I. Lenahan spoke of William Gregory, a firefighter from East Rockaway and a soldier in World War II who made “the ultimate sacrifice.”

Lenahan also asked the crowd not to forget two former East Rockaway High School graduates who died in the Vietnam War. “There are two plaques out there in Memorial park for these individuals, and they were put there many years ago by the VFW,” he said. “We are here never to forget … never to forget.”

“Our great country still warmly welcomes all men and women throughout the world who yearn to be free,” said Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony Santino. “America is only the land of the free because it is the home of the brave.”

At the conclusion of the speeches, members of the military and veterans played taps, raised and then lowered the flag to half-staff, and performed a gun salute to honor members of the armed forces whose lives were lost.