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Maspeth starts Memorial Day early

Although forced indoors by stormy weather, Maspeth residents got a head start on this year’s Memorial Day celebration with a candlelight ceremony Monday night at the American Legion Hall, providing a solemn moment of remembrance before residents take to the streets in two parades this weekend.

“This was started initially because so many people go away over Memorial Day weekend,” said service organizer Florence Albrecht. “If people are going away on the holiday and enjoying the fruits of the deaths of our men, then they should stop a few days before and reflect on what this is all about.”

Five candles were lit during the brief ceremony to honor the veterans who fought in each of the 20th century’s five wars — World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.

“There are no speakers because the main point is to honor those who gave their lives to the country,” Albrecht said. “They are the stars for the evening.”

Residents will have the opportunity to celebrate the contributions of war veterans in a more festive style when two Memorial Day parades stir the streets of Maspeth and Ridgewood with bands and floats this weekend.

While the tradition of honoring war veterans in Maspeth on Memorial Day dates back to the early part of the 20th century, the parade was resurrected 17 years ago after faltering in the early 1980s.

“The cost became prohibitive, people weren’t involved and we couldn’t afford it,” Albrecht said of the parade’s brief hiatus.

The United Veterans and Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth was founded in 1985 to bring back the parade after a Girl Scout troop asked a local newspaper why the community failed to honor its war veterans.

The theme of this year’s Maspeth parade is “The Great Generation,” a title that takes its cue from NBC news correspondent Tom Brokaw’s best-selling book about the generation that fought World War II.

Parade organizers coined a medal to bestow upon WW II veterans who currently live in Maspeth or were residents at the time of the war. Over 100 veterans have come forward and will receive the medal at a ceremony following the parade.

“I was very happy with the response that we got from the community and the number of people that registered to receive the medal,” said Ken Rudzewick, president of Maspeth Federal Savings Bank and a long-time parade organizer.

“I’ve been part of [Maspeth Federal] for the last 17 years before I became the president, but the bank has always been an integral part of whatever happens in Maspeth,” Rudzewick said. “We’ve always supported any endeavor in our town, and this certainly was one of the best endeavors that I could possible think of.”

The parade is to start at 1 p.m. Sunday at Walter A. Garlinge Memorial Park at Grand Avenue and 72nd Street, and will travel along much of Grand before looping back along 61st Street and ending at the intersection of Grand and 69th Lane. A memorial service will take place at 2 p.m. upon the parade’s conclusion.

The 63rd annual Allied Veterans of Ridgewood and Glendale Memorial Day Parade will take place the following day, beginning with services at the Glendale Memorial at Myrtle and Cooper avenues at 11 a.m. Monday.

“The clergy there make an address as far as what Memorial Day means, which a lot of people don’t really know,” said parade organizer Julius Landherr. “They say, ‘What’s Memorial Day?’ They forget the fact of all the guys that died and never came back.”

Having fought in the Second World War while barely out of adolescence, Landherr, now a 77-year-old Glendale resident, is committed to the memory of his comrades.

“We were kids in high school, and we went into planes, subs, ships and we became a fighting force,” he said. “That’s why I don’t forget.”

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

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