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Memorial Day honors LIC’s own

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In a white envelope protecting the torn brown paper of some 30 newspaper clippings, lifelong Astoria resident Nancy DiMeglio has maintained a personal archive of wartime tragedy.

The envelope holds a collection of 33-year-old articles from the Long Island Press, offering a running tally of local servicemen killed in Vietnam — each story tagged with the soldier’s spot in the death toll and a brief synopsis of his life.

DiMeglio’s archive is incomplete, however, only starting the tally at 520 — the number assigned to the death of her brother, Steven Giacoppo.

Giacoppo, the sixth child in a family of eight, was killed in a helicopter crash on July 15, 1968, two months after his 22nd birthday.

“It was very hard to get over. You don’t forget,” said DiMeglio, 70, who serves on the 114th Precinct Community Council and now lives at a senior housing complex on 23rd Street. “That everyone was so anti-war at that time — it hurt.”

On Saturday, the war story DiMeglio has preserved in an envelope will receive some long-overdue recognition when the Veterans Memorial Parade and Dedication stirs the streets of Astoria in recognition of wartime sacrifice.

The parade is only one arm of a yearlong celebration honoring local war veterans, which coincides with the 75th anniversary of the construction of a war memorial sitting along Shore Boulevard between Astoria Park and the East River.

The monument, which will be rededicated at the end of the parade, was built in 1926 by Astoria and Long Island City residents to honor neighbors killed in war. Its inscription reads, “Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends,” after which the year’s events have been dubbed the “Greater Love Than This” Memorial Celebration.

Organizer Antonio Meloni described the parade as “the kickoff for a one-year series of events, all to beautify the area and to properly honor veterans.”

For DiMeglio, the celebration offers a fresh salve for a decades-old wound.

“It does mean that he’s not forgotten and he’s remembered,” she said. “There were lots of boys in Astoria that were killed at that time. To be remembered is wonderful.”

Meloni plans to have metal plaques with the names of Astoria veterans who died in combat mounted on trees surrounding the memorial in Astoria Park.

Although a smaller veterans’ celebration was held in 1986, the 60th anniversary of the war memorial, Meloni said he sought to create a more permanent legacy for family members “who had basically given up on getting any recognition of their husbands or brothers or whoever had been killed in combat.”

Where other Queens communities have been holding annual Memorial Day parades since the ‘20s, the Astoria parade, which is not expected to become a yearly event, is governed more by reason than by tradition.

Recognizing that Memorial Day celebrations often fail to draw the same crowds they did half a century ago because “everyone goes away,” Meloni pushed to hold the Astoria parade one week early on Armed Forces Day.

“People are still around, and a lot of people would want to have a memorial celebration, which they haven’t had in years,” he said.

The yearlong “Greater Love Than This” Memorial Celebration is sponsored by the Astoria Community Anti-Crime Program, the Astoria Civic Association, the Astoria-LIC branch of Kiwanis International.

Over the upcoming year, the organizing committee plans to construct a memorial garden around the monument, mount a memorial mural along Ditmars Boulevard, and beautify the length of Shore Boulevard, to be co-named Veteran’s Memorial Boulevard on May 19.

The parade will set up at 11 a.m. and begin at noon at the corner of 31st Street and 21st Avenue. The procession will travel south on 31st, turn right on Ditmars Boulevard, then proceed left on Shore Boulevard to the monument. The memorial dedication will be held at 1 p.m.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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