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2007 Parade Report

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

The sun shone brightly on the Seventh Edition of the parade on May 27th, but the plan-ning for the parade began under a cloud. In August of 2006, Treasurer Tony Olszewski was advised by the Pastor of St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus Parish that, due to the celebration of Pentecost on the scheduled Sunday of the parade, he would be unable (in accordance with the canons of the Church) to celebrate any other intention during the Masses on that Sunday, and expressed the preference that the parade not come to the Church this year.

Chairman Rick Kenney immediately conferred with the Polish-Slavic Center and requested use of the former St. Alphonsus Church on Kent Street as the venue for the parade Mass. After a meeting of the PSC board of directors, he was advised that the request had been approved. But he received a call in March that the church building would no longer be available due to enforcement of the fire code and maximum capacity limitations. The chairman suggested use of the former St. Alphonsus school hall on Java Street (used in 2003 for the Veterans Ball) and that was agreed to by the PSC. A contract was signed to use the hall for only 90 minutes on Sunday morning for the parade Mass.

With the consent of the committee, the chairman contacted Fr. Ray Rodin, formerly assigned to St. Anthony’s Parish, but now residing at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Long Island City. After being made aware of the objections of the local Pastor, Father Ray agreed to celebrate the parade Mass in the school hall. Tony Olszewski raised the question of Mass equip-ment, but Fr. Ray said he would provide all that was necessary. Just prior to the Mass, Fr. Ray questioned whether there would be music at the Mass, since those of other faiths who would be attending might be used to music with their services. Organist Finton O’Toole, of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Astoria, was contacted through a third party and agreed to bring a keyboard and sound equipment and play at the Mass.

However, concurrently, Fr. Ray had contacted the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and committed them to assist with music at the Mass. The committee was asked to disengage Mr. O’Toole, which was done, but the committee provided him with a gift certificate to a restaurant for having offered to assist on such short notice. The Friars provided music with a guitar and drum, and also assisted by proclaiming the readings at the Mass.

Rabbi William Kloner, a retired U.S. Navy Captain and former Chaplain of the Sixth Fleet in the early 1960’s, now a Rear Admiral with the New York Naval Militia, became the second clergyman to march in the parade. (the other, Unitarian Bishop Enrique Frette of St. Stan’s Post, and Aide to the County Commander, had to accompany Ed Bizinski to another parade in Brooklyn, where Ed was named Grand Marshal, thus missing his first Greenpoint parade.) Fr. Ray welcomed Rabbi Kloner and those of the different faiths who were in attendance at the Mass. His sermon centered around the heroism of the “Four Chaplains,” who perished in the sinking of the USAT DORCHESTER in World War II, after giving their life vests to military members abandoning ship, and Fr. Vincent Capodanno of Staten Island, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for valor and heroism while tending to wounded Marines in a firefight in Viet Nam. At the end of the Mass, he singled out the more than 20 members of the Naval Sea Cadets of the namesake Capodanno Unit, who attended the Mass, for recognition and applause.

City/State Government Coordinator Jimmy Feith was advised by State Assemblyman Lentol’s office that the previous annual $6,000 grant would be reduced this year to only $3,000 due to new budgetary oversight procedures within the state government. The committee initially decided to make up the shortfall by scheduling additional fund raisers during the year (Karaoke Night, Night at the Races, March Madness Barbeque). Of these, a “children’s character day,” suggested by Grand Knight Anthony Hughes, featuring face painting, a display of fire equipment by Post Member and Firefighter Robert Roach, a tour of the 94th Precinct Auxiliary Police emergency services truck, and photos with several cartoon characters in costume was an unexpected resounding success (over 100 children attended!) that helped boost the treasury.

Due to the anticipated shortfall in funding, the committee invited the heads of a number of community organizations to the Post for a dinner and presentation on the parade to encourage co-sponsorship. As a result of this, the parade received an infusion of energy and tangible financial support from the Brooklyn Slovak American Citizens Club on Manhattan Avenue. This also brought President Jackie Dohrman, and Officers Donny Marshall and Sonny Osadzinski onto the parade planning committee. Besides the organization’s financial contribution, the Slovak Club commissioned buttons bearing the name of the club, and the legend “we support our troops” under crossed flags, for distribution to those participating in the parade.

Another consistent supporter, Eddie Hanley, once again pledged the proceeds of several events he sponsored during the year to the parade. In view of his significant support of the last several parades (at one point, practically keeping the parade from going under), the decision of the committee was easy and unanimous in selecting him to be Grand Marshal of the 7th parade! Eddie was genuinely honored by his selection, and was a credit to the parade as its Grand Marshal. At one point, he was quoted as saying: “If I died right now, I’d die a happy man!”

In view of recurring problems setting up sound equipment at the various war memorials around the neighborhood, the decision was made to hold the memorial service in front of the American Legion Post on Leonard Street, and rededicate the monument and memorial stone to the deceased veterans of all wars. The speakers outside the Post building would be loud enough for everyone on the street to hear, and thus save the cost of rental of sound equipment.

The 7th Annual Parade would honor the:

o 90th Anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I

o 20th Anniversary of New York City’s Fleet Week and

o Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, USMC, of upstate New York, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously by President George Bush, for throwing himself on a grenade, dropped by an insurgent in Iraq, to save the members of his squad.

This year, a composite campaign flag representing World War I was designed by Past Commander Eddie Wizbicki, and it was sewn from various swatches of material. Once again, the campaign flags were proudly carried by the young men of the St. Francis House in Greenpoint. Also added was another wreath representing the deceased veteran members of the Slovak Club.

Perhaps one of the highlights of the parade happened in April, when LT Carl Gerhard of the U.S. Navy Band Northeast (from Newport, Rhode Island, but scheduled to be in New York City for Fleet Week), accepted an invitation to march in the parade. This marked the first ever military band in the Greenpoint parade!

In anticipation of a marching band and cheerleaders from Cathedral High School in Manhattan, some 60 strong, to join this parade, in addition to the marching band and cheer-leaders of the District 14 High School band (as usual, marching only one way to the Memorial Mass), efforts were not made to invite additional bands. This proved to be somewhat embarrass-ing when the band from Cathedral failed to arrive.

Another highlight of this parade was the first appearance by the bright red “recruiting Humvee” from the 1st Marine Corps District Headquarters in Garden City, New York. Shrink wrapped with the Marmaluke officer’s sword of the U.S. Marine Corps, and fitted with “boom box” speakers and X-box video equipment in a rear hatch to support attention-getting recruiting music and graphics, and accompanied by two Woman Marine Recruiters whose military bearing was beyond reproach, this closest thing to a “float” was definitely a hit, especially with the kids!

On the morning of the parade, Jim Feith and Timmy Hughes left at 6:30 A.M. on one bus bound for the Staten Island Homeport to pick up a U.S. Navy marching unit from the Fleet Week ship, fast frigate USS STEVEN W. GROVES (FFG-29), and Tony Olszewski and Grand Knight Anthony Hughes left on the other bus to pick up a U.S. Marine Corps marching unit from the amphibious assault ship USS WASP (LHD-1), in port at the passenger ship terminal in Manhattan. The GROVES had participated in the parade in 2005, and there were several “veterans” of that previous parade who came back to join us once again!

The NYPD Auxiliary of the 94th Precinct came out in force, with a vehicle protecting each end of the parade and several members performing traffic control duties along the route. The antique squad cars of the NYPD made their second parade appearance. The Queensboro Motorcycle Club also made their second appearance, after rearranging one of their annual events around the parade, and this time came out in force with more than (20) bikes! Our local Fire Companies, Ladder 106 and Engine 238 did not participate this year, as their members attended an 11:00 Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Anthony’s Church in honor of the Ordination of Carlos Martinez, of Lexington Council, as a Permanent Deacon in the Catholic Church.

Once again, the parade was led by the 4th Degree Color Corps of the Knights of Colum-bus. Guests of Honor included Assemblyman David Weprin; Tish Cianciotta, representing Assemblyman Lentol; Grand Knight Joe Cimino of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Council; and Victor Gainor, Past Commander, New York Athletic Club American Legion Post in New York City.

There were Color Guards from all five military services: the U.S. Army at Fort Hamilton; the U.S. Navy (USS GROVES); 1st Marine Corps District, Garden City; the U.S. Air Force Ceremonial Guard at Maguire Air Force Base, New Jersey; and U.S. Coast Guard Activities New York on Staten Island. Joining the parade for the first time were Color Guards from the Marine Corps 6th Communications Battalion Reserve Unit at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, and the Navy Operational Support (Reserve) Center at Fort Schuyler, Bronx, New York.

Representing the “Youth of America” once again were the Capodanno Sea Cadet Unit from Staten Island; the NJROTC Unit from the High School of Graphic Communication Arts in Manhattan; and the NJROTC Unit from the George Washington Educational Campus in the Bronx. A Flag-carrying Sister Mirian Daniel led the children of St. Cecilia elementary School.

Our Civil War re-enactors, Janice and George Weinman, have marched in every parade, as have the Ladies of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and members of the Greenpoint Lions and Green Oaks Clubs. They were joined by Color Guards from the Catholic War Veterans, and the PFC Czachor Post, and for the second year, Levittown Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

As the heat of the day took hold, a brief Memorial Ceremony was held as the parade arrived back at the American Legion Post on Leonard Street. Past Commander and Post Chaplain Ed Wizbicki acted as Master of Ceremonies and offered an invocation and reflection on the meaning of the day and the role and proud legacy of the American Veteran. Post Commander John Pieprzak recounted the circumstances and citation surrounding the awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, USMC. As the wreaths were placed at the memorial to all the deceased veterans, trumpeters from the Navy Band Northeast played taps.

Another “first” for the parade was the presentation of a proclamation by the Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, noting that “Whereas, all citizens of Brooklyn are urged to acknowledge this event as a tribute to those who gave their lives, so that our democratic ideals would be upheld, our liberty remain secure, and our citizens live free from tyranny and oppress-ion; and proclaiming Sunday, May 27th, 2007 as the “7th Annual Greenpoint Veterans Memorial Parade Day in Brooklyn, USA,” a distinct honor for this northernmost section of the borough.

As Tommy and Dottie Stagg set up the food line under an outdoor tent on the Post grounds, children and military members were given head of the line privileges for hot dogs and soft drinks. After many of the marching units returned to their buses to either march in other parades or go home to enjoy the holiday, the party moved inside the Post where there was a DJ, hot buffet and cold drinks for all who stayed to socialize with the military members present.

At around 5:30 P.M., there was a very poignant moment as the DJ played a final “I’m Proud To Be An American” and “God Bless America,” and Commander Pieprzak hoisted the Flag in the center of the dance floor. Those present instinctively formed a receiving line and both Sailors and Marines passed down the line to hugs and kisses from many a teary-eyed local patriot, enroute to their buses. And though not a word was said, it was known by all that at the time of next year’s parade, many of these same young men and women would be serving on the front lines in either Iraq or Afghanistan, upholding the proud traditions of those in uniform who had gone before them, and whose legacy they had honored earlier in the day.

The events of this parade were captured both in still photographs and on video, from early in the morning of the parade, through the line of march and Memorial Service, to the reception for the military throughout the afternoon by Post Historian Phil Ras and Members Anthony Olszewski and Bill Revy. A brilliant record of this parade has been assembled, edited and produced by Phil Ras, an Air Force Veteran, and copied to a DVD disk, with a musical soundtrack added. Phil also uploaded much of this material to the parade website, with an acknowledgement of the supporters of this year’s parade, for the enjoyment of all!

Thanks also go out to Parade Committee members Carl and Karla Licht, Mike Colavito, Louie Gonzalez and Debbie Duda, not mentioned previously above!