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Laurelton Memorial Day Parade honors fallen veterans

An early morning downpour threatened to cancel the festivities Monday, but as Ladder 158 began its slow crawl along Merrick Boulevard, the sun was just beginning to break from behind the clouds to shine down on the Laurelton Memorial Day Parade.

This was by no means a grandiose procession: There were no columns of marching Marines in crisp uniforms or seas of sailors in their impeccable whites.

The sidewalks weren’t packed with patrons lining either side of the wide boulevard — rather a singular spectator waved from this or that street corner, or a small group of neighbors gathered outside a home as the parade route turned south on 225th Street.

But what this parade lacked in grandeur it more than compensated for with a community spirit that could be felt in one’s gut just as well as the rhythmic reverberations coming from the drums of the Pathfinder Marching Band.

Aside from the handful of veterans marching toward the front, the parade consisted mostly of children — youths from the local Boy and Girl Scout troops, kids from the Kickers league dressed in their soccer uniforms and, of course, the talented musicians of the marching band who seemed to propel everyone with a hop in their step.

Shelley Williams of Cambria Heights followed the parade along its route, cheering and waving at her 11-year-old daughter, Sidney.

“I love the parade,” she beamed. “It’s a great way to commemorate our soldiers who make the world a better place.”

Wherever the route went, Williams stopped to talk to the neighbors who gathered outside their homes to watch.

Thomas Alonzo had set up a video recorder on a tripod to tape the parade as it passed by his home on 225th Street. He said he had taped the parade every year for the past five years. When asked what he would do with the tape, he replied: “I’ll watch it next year.”

As the members of the Rosedale, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans Lions Clubs, along with VFW Posts 5298, 1896 and 2788 and their Ladies Auxiliaries walked along the street, they waved and chatted with friends who came out to support them and to honor and pay their respects to the nation’s soldiers.

George Cadet stood on a shaded corner with his Haitian flag.

“I’m a Haitian-American, and this flag is to support all the American people,” he said. “We need our soldiers to come back — they’ve been gone for so many years.”

The parade route ended at the Laurelton Veterans Memorial Triangle, where elected officials and community leaders expressed the sentiment of the day.

“Memorial Day needs a public revival. Far too many Americans genuinely appreciate the sacrifice made on their behalf,” said VFW Post 5298 Commander Leroy Barnes. “Few too many Americans are touched personally by the conflicts overseas. We, as leaders in the veterans community must remind all Americans how important it is to remember — especially the young and the foreigners now in America.”

Afterward, Barnes read a list of more than 200 names of members of his VFW Post from World War I and the Korean and Vietnam wars who have died, as Sgt. Master Jackie Wilson softly rang a bell after each name.

“I strongly encourage every American and all of you to spend Memorial Day as it was intended,” Barnes said.

After all the speeches had been made and the ceremonies were over, the band started up again and snacks were served to the children, who far outnumbered the few remaining veterans.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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