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Little Neck-Doug parade marches on despite rain

As rain began sprinkling down near the official 2 p.m. parade start time, parade organizer Vic Mimoni said, "Nobody loves this weather," perhaps thinking of last year's parade held in a torrential rainstorm.

But the rain held at a slight drizzle this year, and the 77th annual parade proceeded smoothly in all its patriotic pomp, heading a mile and a half west on Northern Boulevard, from Jayson Street towards St. Anastasia's schoolyard at Alameda Boulevard.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg sped-walked by in a cluster of area politicians, including Councilmen John Liu (D-Flushing) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside).

"This is actually the fifth event that I've attended this Memorial Day weekend," Avella said. "This is what makes this country great. We remember those who fought and died. Let it always be so." He cheered the historic parade, thought to be one of the largest in the country. "It's a neighborhood event. People from the community get together and show their patriotism."

The Matinecoks of Little Neck were marching in full Native American gear near the head of the 162-group parade. Donna Barron, whose native name is Gentle Spirit, said the entire five-person contingent was made up of her family. "That's my aunt, my uncle, my father," she said, pointing around the group of marchers. She laughed off the rain. "It's better than last year."

Highlights of this year's parade included the fleet of gleaming vintage firetrucks from the Manhasset/Lakeville Volunteer Fire Departments, the USO torch singers, the Federation of Black Cowboys riding on their horses, the Francis Lewis High School Junior ROTC and Color Guard, the Local 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers motorcycle brigade, and the many bagpipers in the numerous Emerald Society Pipe Bands.

Jim Rodgers, chairman of the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade Organization said that this year's event was the largest in parade history, with over 15,000 participants and 60,000 spectators.

This year's Recognition Award went to the St. Anastasia School. The Best Float Award went to PS 94 for its float called "Liberty is not a dream." The Best Youth Organization Award went to Zion Episcopal Church.

Students from Francis Lewis High School won two awards: Best Marching Unit for their Junior ROTC and Best School Band for their marching band. The Theme Award went to PS 221 in Douglaston.

Grand Marshal Major General Richard Colt, of the 77th Regional Readiness Command based in Fort Totten, rolled through in a gigantic yellow and black Hummer plastered with Army Reserve stickers, followed by nearly 300 members of his command turned out in uniform.

"See Mommy?" Victor Watson of Willingboro, N.J. said to his four sons, who were jumping up and down as the reserve command marched by. "Right there!" his son Joshua said. Watson's wife has marched in the parade for the past two years with the command, where she serves as legal support. "Anything to support the 77th," Watson said. "She always volunteers for ways to support the country."

Chet Marcus, spokesman for the 77th, said that the parade symbolizes the city's patriotism. "This parade is very important because it solidifies the image that New York City is very patriotic," he said.

Despite the inclement weather, the famous fly-over occurred around 2:30 as two military helicopters buzzed over the heads of the spectators lined along Northern Boulevard.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) walked by in a modest contingent, flanked by two aides carrying giant placards saying "Senator Schumer Salutes Our Veterans." Schumer held a flag in one hand and said, "Hello, everyone. Let's hear it for the USA," through the bullhorn he grasped in his other hand.

Bellerose resident Hector Gonzalez wore a ball cap emblazoned with the words "Vietnam Veteran," and sipped a cup of sangria on the side of the street, nodding and waving at the marchers.

"It's raining, but it's beautiful," said Gonzalez, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who enlisted in the ROTC in Puerto Rico and served in the Military Intelligence Unit during the war. "There are lots of emotions. Yesterday, I felt tears in my eyes. You relive all you went through. It's very sad, but I'm very proud to be an American."

According to Gonzalez, one marcher singled him out because of his hat. "One guy went by and said, 'Welcome back,' which is a salute to Vietnam veterans. I'm very proud that I served and that I came back," he said, hugging his daughter.

Korean War veteran Vincent Cavalluzzi, who marched with the Flushing 422 Regiment, leaned against a fence smoking a cigarette and watching the rest of the marchers. "We don't see much of the parade" while marching in it, he said. "It's very good this year. Well organized."

The students of PS 221 North Hills School marched ahead of a red pickup truck carrying a large tribute to Roger Ling, an alum who died in combat in Iraq this year. It was one of the few acknowledgements of the current conflict in the parade.

As the participants reached the end of the parade route at St. Anastasia, volunteers handed out hot dogs and lemonade. Fran Carroll, a third-grade teacher at St. Anastasia, munched on a hot dog after 70 students from her school shook red and white pom-poms and performed a 'Rocks and Rockettes' routine in front of the judges' table. "My success was that they stayed together," she said.

Carroll, who has taught at the school since 1976, has seen the parade grow exponentially in that time. "It started with just a few organizations, a few Boy Scouts," she said. "Next year our pom- poms will be red, white and blue."

There will be a post-parade ceremony at Ft. Totten on Wednesday, June 16, time to be determined. All parade participants are invited, and the ceremony is open to public.

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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