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Sun shines on marchers in Little Neck parade

Under stunning sunshine that vaporized worries this year’s holiday would be a washout, the largest Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day parade ever marched down Northern Boulevard Monday afternoon as thousands of spectators clapped and cheered.

With 15 bands and nearly 100 groups marching in the 2001 Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day parade, the event traditionally competes with Chicago as the largest such event in the country.

Just a half an hour before the parade was slated to start, cloudy skies and empty sidewalks along Northern Boulevard in Great Neck, Little Neck and Douglaston forecast disaster for the annual event.

But when parade time struck and two police cars with blaring sirens took the lead to clear a path for the bands and marchers who followed, strong sunlight decimated threatening clouds and northeastern Queens’ main thoroughfare was packed with thousands of spectators all along the 1.1-mile-long parade route.

“It was a major turnout,” said Community Affairs Officer Santo Elardo of the 111th Police Precinct. Elardo said the crowd easily surpassed 25,000.

For more than 70 years the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade has proceeded through the two Queens communities to honor the country’s veterans. This year’s parade began at Jayson Avenue and Northern Boulevard in Great Neck and traveled along the boulevard into the St. Anastasia’s parking lot at Alameda Avenue in Douglaston.

The theme of the 2001 march was the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Borough President Claire Shulman, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and City Councilman Mike Abel (R-Bayside), who were just some of the elected officials to take part in the event, elicited loud cheers from those on the sidelines.

By far the crowds reserved their biggest response for the local veterans and active servicemen and women who paraded down the boulevard. From young men and women in uniform to time-worn veterans, spectators offered strong applause, loud cheers, shouts and whistles as marchers passed by.

Peter Mark, a Vietnam veteran from Great Neck who served from 1969 to 1971, had a prime sidewalk seat before the parade began.

“It just brings back wonderful memories,” said Mark, who was dressed in uniform. “It’s terrifically exciting.”

For Pete Negron, who lived in Little Neck for years before recently moving to New Hyde Park, served in the U.S. Navy from 1970 to 1974.

“It’s something special,” Negron said of the Little Neck-Douglaston parade. “A lot of vets are never appreciated.”

World War II veteran Jim O’Toole, of Douglaston, was flooded with somber memories as the parade went down Northern Boulevard.

“I think of all my old comrades and the sacrifices they made and I wish the best for their families,” he said.

Loretta Gentile, of Jackson Heights, and Claire Petrini, of Douglaston, were also enjoying the parade.

“It’s hard to find America these days,” Gentile said.

Petrini said simply “we love the veterans.”

Robin Barrow, of Little Neck, also sat on the parade sidelines watching over several young children.

“We bring them every year,” she said. “It’s a family thing. We want them to remember that there were people less fortunate than they are.”

Remembrance is one of the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day parade’s top priorities: the march traditionally begins with a large red, white and blue banner that reads “Little Neck-Douglaston: Memorial Day We Remember.”

Hundreds of bagpipers, bands, veteran and community groups followed, including several school and commercial floats. A line of screaming fire trucks and ambulances delighted children along Northern Boulevard, but classic cars and motorcycles also made an impression.

After the more than two-hour march ended residents and parade officials gathered in the St. Anastasia’s parking lot for a 15-minute show by entertainers from the United Service Organizations, who also sang Happy Birthday to Giuliani.

Giuliani, who has marched in the parade during each year of his administration, praised the organization committee.

“This community should be very proud of this parade,” the mayor told the crowd. “Thank you very much for this wonderful remembrance of the people who made it possible for us to have freedom.”

The mayor then presented Shulman with a proclamation making May 28, 2001 Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade Day.

Padavan, who is a veteran and marches in the Little Neck-Douglaston parade in full uniform, praised the event.

“It’s a very great community — the residents of Little Neck and Douglaston really demonstrate their feelings about the veterans. They’re not out shopping,” he said. “They’re here.”

The longtime state senator played his role in arranging the holiday’s unexpectedly beautiful weather, he said, by passing legislation in Albany last week forbidding it to rain on Memorial Day.

Area clergy who participated in the annual Interfaith service Monday morning at St. Anastasia’s urged people to remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives in war. They also asked the 100 people who attended the service to pray for sunshine.

Other politicians who attended the parade included Democratic mayoral candidate Alan Hevesi and his son, state Sen. Dan Hevesi (D-Forest Hills); possible Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg; state assembly members Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) and Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside); and City Council members Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst) and Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), who are both running for borough president.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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