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Astoria streets burst in show of patriotism

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It started with a bunch of friends filling the streets of Astoria with an unabashed and sometimes delirious show of patriotism, but by nightfall last Thursday an intersection was transformed by a neighborhood united in support of their country.

“We were running around Astoria with flags on our heads,” said Manny Mojica, an Astoria resident from the Ravenswood housing project who helped bring the community together. “We all wanted to do something.”

Shouting “Honk if you love America” to the cars that passed along 21st Street one afternoon last week, Mojica and his friends, Chris Montali and Ray Johnson, responded the only way they could to the sadness overwhelming the city.

They had tried other options. Hospitals were turning away hordes of blood donors and rescue crews at the World Trade Center were already inundated with volunteers.

Prevented from donating time to the physical effort of rescuing and rebuilding, they decided to focus on the emotional healing of their neighbors in Astoria — including two sisters who had lost a firefighter brother beneath the rubble of the towers. So they gathered a crowd and began to heal.

“There’s a lot of dead people,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to do something for their souls. We’ve all been through it together.”

At the time when many Americans sat on their front stoops, lighting candles in honor of the dead and the missing, the intersection of Broadway and Crescent Street in Astoria was alive with the spirit of patriotism.

By nightfall last Thursday, 300 people had gathered at a stretch of road illuminated by the bright lights of a nearby Twin Donut shop and countless flames flickering in glass jars and plastic cups. One man clutched a candle in his fist, the wax dripping along his fingers, drying to form a candlestick in his hand.

They shouted “USA” as if cheering at an Olympic event, their voices joining a chorus of honks emitted by cars pushing cautiously through the crowd, which spilled off the sidewalks and along the sides of the street. A driver of the Q104 bus waved a miniature flag, while police flashed their cars’ lights and joined the shouts through the speakers on their roof.

As if the crowd was not yet large enough, dozens more streamed into the intersection from the Ravenswood Houses a few blocks away, where neighbors passed from door to door picking up supporters before pushing toward the larger crowd on Broadway.

“I want to show that I love my country, and I’m not going to let anybody destroy it,” said Angela Suric, 15, a local student who stood at the corner with her cousins and her friends.

For them and many others, coming together at the nation’s time of need — and seeing the American flag waving from car windows and streaming from people’s clothes — gave them a renewed sense of patriotism.

As Suric’s 14-year-old cousin Alexandra Malnovic put it, “We didn’t really know how much this meant to us.”

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

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