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Why A Parade?

Greenpoint to Say Thanks Before 1,000 More Vets Pass Away!

On the last Sunday morning of May, the skirl of bagpipes will awaken the residents of Manhattan Avenue. They will signal the approach of a Veterans Memorial Parade from the St. Stanislaus Memorial American Legion Post to St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus Church for a “Massing of the Colors” and Memorial Mass for all Veterans, living and deceased.

Co-sponsored by the Legion Post #1771, Lexington Council #293 of the Knights of Columbus, The Slovak Club and The Polonia Club this Parade certainly isn’t going to rival the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Veterans Parades that filled 5th Avenue following World War II, all the way through the 1950′s and 1960′s, or even the Christmas Parades on Manhattan Avenue in the 1970′s and 1980′s. As a matter of fact, it may not be a very long parade at all.

But it’s going to happen, even if only a handful of marchers show up. Why? Three reasons – one, because this is Greenpoint; two, because nobody else is doing it these days; and three, because before we have the next one in 2008, over 350,000 more World War II veterans will leave us, at the rate of 1,000 a day. The “Greatest Generation,” as Tom Brokaw so aptly named it in the title of his book, is quickly passing from us.

Yes, the old timers with the well-worn sea stories and war stories will soon be gone and there will soon be no one to exasperate us, yet regale us, with funny stories about “The Big One.” Oh yes, the stories are usually funny – because the humorous side of the war masks the fear, desperation and sheer horror of war these same old-timers experienced and will carry to their grave.

Oh, don’t worry – there will still be plenty of Korean and Vietnam Veterans around the local clubs and saloons to provide updated versions of the “cooks who were made mechanics and the mechanics who were made cooks” stories, because that hasn’t changed in the military since Washington crossed the Delaware. But there is a certain urgency about our World War II Vets. We are only going to have a few more chances to say “Thanks” for a job well done, even though it’s hard to believe that the old guy with the hearing aid and no teeth once picked up the pieces of Pearl Harbor, and went out and won a war fought on two fronts, on opposite sides of the world, for you and me.

If you are over 50, you may remember news stories in your lifetime of the death of the last surviving Civil War and Spanish-American War Veterans. You can count the remaining Veterans of World War I on one hand today. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the movies “Saving Private Ryan” and “Pearl Harbor” were being released when they were. Maybe they’re just a Director’s tribute to these survivors of hell.

Then again, maybe they’re subtly intended to educate a generation of Americans born after 1975, who have never really experienced “war,” and who have not enjoyed the good feeling of a classic Frank Capra movie about World War II, or the drama of the “Five Sullivans” (in black and white), which aren’t even shown on network television anymore. In an upcoming movie, the technology of digital graphics will make the few authentic Japanese Zero bombers still left look like waves of 100′s in the attack. On December 7th, 1941, the numbers and planes were all too real.

As Casey Stengel used to say, “You can look it up” – over at the USS INTREPID Museum every December 7th, when the actual Pearl Harbor survivors place a wreath in memory of their fallen comrades. And that’s what we will do on the morning of May 30th, right on Manhattan Avenue, free of charge. We invite the whole Greenpoint community – young and old to join us in the march, or on the sidelines, or at the Mass.

Our parade may be small and corny and sentimental, but it may be the best we can do to honor our Veterans just one more time – perhaps, for some, the last time. Greenpointers have never been reluctant to wear their patriotism on their sleeve. This neighborhood still boasts a large number of Marine Corps, Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine Veterans from all wars. Let’s honor each other and those who have gone before us.

It would be nice to see a big crowd, and fill that massive Church. And if there isn’t, the organizers probably will be dismayed. But deep down inside, we don’t expect the good people of Greenpoint to disappoint us. We take our inspiration from the famous icon of the “Spirit of ’76,” just three marchers who defied their wounds and their enemies and still marched proudly, to inspire a nation! Come on out, thank a Vet!

Oh, and we will carry in the parade this nation’s only authorized neighborhood flag. Our neighborhood is special – it’s events like this that will keep it that way. This parade doesn’t endorse war – it merely recognizes that war is a horrible reality that moves us to join Pope John Paul II as he pleads and prays for world peace. We invite our newly arrived immigrants, who know well the ravages of war, and our artistic neighbors from across the river to come out and experience and perhaps capture for us in clay or on canvas what makes Greenpoint such a unique and wonderful place to live!

Isn’t that what attracted you to Greenpoint in the first place?