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Ridgewood honors its war vets

Standing on a platform before a crowd of veterans and their countless well-wishers Monday, state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) focused her comments on the spectators who fortunately have nothing to remember on Memorial Day - the children for whom war is only history.

"It''s how we show our pride in our community when we teach our young people to honor our veterans," Nolan told her audience.

The crowds lining Myrtle Avenue for the 67th annual Allied Veterans of Ridgewood and Glendale Memorial Day Parade Monday were brimming with children who waved flags along the curb and pranced merrily to the beat of the military drums.

Some, like 5-month-old Kyle Velez, were too young to understand why they were there. Clad in an American flag outfit and bundled beneath a blue-starred blanket, Kyle was rolled through his first Memorial Day parade by his mother Nina Velez, a volunteer EMT who also marched with Kyle''s 4-year-old brother, Monte.

"I want to teach my children the importance of Memorial Day," she said.

Others who came out for the parade remembered fighting wars while they were hardly more than children themselves.

Thomas Mazza entered the service as a young man in the late 1960s with one of his best friends from childhood, Rudy Rossi of Ridgewood. He returned home from Vietnam with Rossi - as the escort for his friend''s body.

Rossi was killed in battle on May 18, 1969 at the age of 20.

"We had a lot to look forward to," said Mazza, who currently serves as a state commander for the Disabled American Veterans and as quartermaster for VFW Post 7336 in Glendale. "It destroyed a lot of lives. It really destroyed the neighborhood because we''re a very tight group of people."

While many were lured by the sound of the bands and the spectacle of the parade, Mazza came out to do exactly what the holiday''s name suggests - to remember.

"I march every year so people don''t forget," he said. "It''s so nice to be free. We take it all for granted - it''s a shame."

Even some of those who never fought an actual war for their freedom brought a profound sense of understanding to the celebration, often through memories of more personal battles.

"Everybody''s supposed to be here," said Nicolae Paun of Glendale, who enjoyed the parade with his wife Cleotilde and their 3-year-old son, Emanuel. "If you want to exist, you have to be together."

Nine years ago Paun emigrated from Romania to the United States, where he soon met his wife, an immigrant from Ecuador.

Sitting perched on his father''s shoulders, Emanuel also struggled for peace - only he waged war against the parade, sticking his fingers into his ears to block out the sometimes-deafening sounds floating from the street.

Perhaps the significance of Memorial Day has not yet struck Emanuel. But his father, waiting to receive his citizenship in the upcoming year, knows only too well.

"Because we like the freedom, sir," he said when asked why he moved across the world. "In America, there is opportunity for everybody, opportunity for everything. The doors are open to everybody, no matter the color, the sex, nothing."

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

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