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Forest Hills Memorial Day draws mayor with throngs

The skies cooperated over Metropolitan Avenue Sunday as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a slew of local politicians waved the Stars and Stripes to the steady beat of marching bands at Forest Hills' Memorial Day parade.

Wearing a cream-colored sweater with an American flag on it, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Memorial Day was "a time to remember those who fought (and) died for this country."

"It's also a time to be with your family," said Bloomberg.

Woodhaven residents Heidi and Mallory Busterna took heed as they proudly held up a camouflage-colored Marine Corps banner as they watched the parade from the sidelines.

"We come every year to support the veterans especially, and now for those who are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Heidi Busterna, whose brother, Staff Sgt. Karl Conboy of Woodhaven, is serving in Iraq.

"He knows we always come out here," she said.

The parade began at noon outside the American Legion Hall at Metropolitan and Ascan avenues, and proceeded to Remsen Cemetery on Trotting Course Lane for a ceremony honoring Congressional Medal of Honor winners and other distinguished veterans.

Borough President Helen Marshall and western Queens elected officials marched together, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), waved to the crowd shouting, "Let's hear it for our troops!"

Mayor Bloomberg was briefly booed by the crowd on the day the city closed six fire companies to help close a yawning budget gap.

Veterans were out in force during the march, many of them in military hats and uniforms.

One of them was Middle Village resident Gerald Novak, 68, who served in the Korean War.

"I love my country," said Novak. "And I would do it all over again if I had to."

David Solomon, president of the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps and a Vietnam veteran, said his group was marching for patriotic reasons.

"We believe in America," said Solomon of his organization, whose first lieutenant is a Korean War veteran.

Military vehicles, including a vintage Army chopper resting on the back of a trailer, were part of the parade's display of national pride.

Marching in the event were groups as diverse as the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, who made the trek in their wheelchairs, and Junior ROTC members from Francis Lewis High School.

High school marching bands from Queens and Brooklyn as well as the 3rd Infantry Fife and Drum Corps kept the marchers going to a thunderous drumbeat.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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