Gold Star mom Marianna Winchester to lead the Rockville Centre Memorial Day Parade


Marianna Winchester, a Gold Star mother, local schoolteacher and Rockville Centre resident for nearly 50 years, will lead the annual Memorial Day Parade on May 27.

“Every day is Memorial Day as far as I’m concerned,” Winchester said. “We wouldn’t have what we have today if we didn’t have Memorial Day. It’s because of the thousands who have died that have given us the freedom that we have today.”

Winchester, 77, grew up in a military household. Her father fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II. Her brother served in Vietnam. And her son, Marine Corps Lt. Ronald Winchester, served two tours with ground infantry in Iraq.

He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2001. He was a lineman and a captain of the Navy football team, and in 2000 he led the Midshipmen to victory in their biggest game of the season, against Army, 30-28.

Winchester was killed in action on Sept. 3, 2004, while he was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle, killing three other Marines as well. He was 25.

“My life changed in a split second,” his mother recalled. “Time may pass, but the pain doesn’t.”

It has been 20 years since her son died, but she said that no one anniversary has felt any different or held more importance than the rest.

“It’s all the same,” Marianna said. “Time heals nothing.”

While she still feels the pain of losing her son, she refuses to allow it to make her bitter. “This was his dream. This was his desire,” she said. “Up until the very last day that we spoke, I supported him in everything he did.”

And she has helped keep Ronnie’s memory alive by dedicating herself to making a difference in the lives of others — particularly other military veterans.

“I try and do as much as I can for the veterans,” Winchester said. “It’s not about me. It’s about my son and all the other veterans that have been killed over the course of time.”

In Ronnie’s memory, his sister, Kristine, organized a pub crawl with friends and family in 2005. His mother liked the idea so much that she expanded on it, organizing a fundraiser the following year, a Walk of Honor, to pay tribute to her son in a manner that would have made him proud.

It was a huge success, and became an annual even that has helped raise thousands of dollars over the past 17 years for organizations including the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, America’s VetDogs, and the First Marine Division Association Scholarship fund.

Despite all that Winchester has done to help local veterans, the government, she said, needs to provide more help for those who struggle when they come home. 

“We have to do more for our veterans,” she said. “Veterans today are not getting the care they need.”

Members of Rockville Centre’s American Legion Post No. 303 have been supportive of Winchester’s family since Day One, she said.

“It’s very important to us that we recognize her and the sacrifice that her son gave to this country,” post Commander Frank Colón Jr. said. “That’s what Memorial Day is all about. Remembering the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom.”

In addition to helping local veterans, the American Legion supports the community at large, sponsoring Little League teams, and hosts an annual Law and Order Night to recognize first responders.

Colón said that Marianna Winchester deserves a great deal of credit for the work she does for veterans. That’s why Post 303 voted to honor her as this year’s grand marshal.

She said that if there is one thing she hopes people will take away from the Memorial Day Parade, it is to be grateful for the sacrifices made by the country’s veterans, some of who died before they even got the opportunity to live their lives.

The ceremonies will begin with the parade, at 10 a.m., which will kick off in parking field No. 2, between North Centre and North Village avenues, and proceed down Quealy Place past St. Agnes Cathedral, and then turning onto Maple Avenue, to the John A. Anderson Recreation Center on Oceanside Road.

A service will follow the parade at around 11 a.m. in Veterans Park, to honor local servicemen and women who fought and died for the country.

As a special tribute to local veterans, active-duty military, reserves, and members of the National Guard, the village will once again display banners with the names and photos of those who have served, which will be placed around the village through Veterans Day.

Following the ceremonies, residents and visitors are invited to join members of Post 303, at 197 Maple Ave., for hot dogs and refreshments.