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Little Neck-Doug parade draws thin crowd in rain

A torrential downpour kept many away from the 76th annual Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade Monday, but staunch supporters of the observance turned out nonetheless to watch the parade proceed down Northern Boulevard during a break in the storm.

“I’m all American, rain or shine,” said bundled-up Bayside resident Rose Mary Cocchiarella. “You’ve got to support the troops.”

The march, usually one of the nation’s largest Memorial Day celebrations, brought just a fraction of its usual participants and spectators, observers said.

Parade organization spokesman Victor Mimoni said the turnout was “as well as could be expected in the worst weather we’ve had in years.”

“A lot of people still showed up to pay tribute to those who gave their lives,” said Mimoni.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and politicians from all over northeast Queens attended the parade, but Borough President Helen Marshall, who made an appearance at last year’s parade and at four parades on Saturday, was a no-show.

“We thought it was going to be kind of rained out. We weren’t sure if it was going to be on or not so she opted not to go,” said Dan Andrews, Marshall’s spokesman.

Mimoni took Marshall’s absence in stride. “The borough president has been very good about attending the parade, and has been very supportive of our efforts,” he said.

Though the mayor was not booed in Little Neck as he had been at parades in Forest Hills and College Point, the crowd cheered when someone on Ladder Co. 164’s truck shouted, “Anybody seen the mayor? He may have closed our firehouse while we were out.”

Navy soldiers in town for Fleet Week both marched and watched from the sidelines. Those interviewed said the turnout was impressive despite the weather.

“You wouldn’t see this many people in Virginia outside if it was raining,” said Navy sailor Rebecca Church, 22, of Massachusetts.

World War II veteran Elliot Marciano, 81, marched in the parade because “you have to remember the ones we left behind. Freedom doesn’t come easy,” he said.

Several local scout troops and school groups marched in the parade, such as those from Douglaston’s PS 98 who donned colonial hats and played their recorders as they marched.

Volunteer ambulance corps from Bayside, Little Neck and Glen Oaks, the Sanitation Department’s Emerald Society fife and drum band, bagpipers and the Francis Lewis High School junior ROTC were among the participants.

Community groups including the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee, Douglaston Garden Club and St. Anastasia’s Knights of Columbus chapter marched with their banners. About eight members of the Electrical Workers’ union also rode on their American motorcycles.

The awards ceremony, traditionally held immediately after the parade, will instead be held in two weeks’ time at Fort Totten, Mimoni said. Whitestone’s parade, scheduled for 1 p.m., was canceled after the noon ceremonies at Memorial Park due to rain.

Monday’s parade was the culmination of a series of activities held by the parade organization this year, including a dinner dance fund-raiser in February. The annual golf tournament will be held this fall.

A pizza dinner and awards ceremony was held Friday at St. Anastasia’s Church, in honor of local schoolchildren who entered the parade’s annual art and essay contest.

This year’s parade honorees included the parade’s Grand Marshal, Col. Eugene Lombardo, former executive director of the United Service Organizations of Metro New York; Division Marshals Vincent Cacciola, Henry Cacciola and Herman Breden (all veterans); Man of the Year Joseph M. Mattone, Woman of the Year Gloria Bodie and Youths of the Year Jessica Fishstein and Benson George.

The Douglas S. MacKay Community Service Award went to Mohsen Zandieh of Arash Real Estate and Monsignor Michael Cantley of St. Anastasia’s Church. James H. Fitzgerald received this year’s Chairman’s Award and the Senior Americanism Award went to Michael MacLaga.

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

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