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Parade Report

The 9th Parade
Sunday, May 24th, 2009

The 9th Annual Parade will be remembered not so much for who was there, but rather, for who wasn’t!  On the Thursday before the parade, Jimmy Feith, one of the three original co-founders of the parade (along with Ed Wizbicki and Rick Kenney), suffered a heart attack while making deliveries on his truck route.  Fortunately, he was able to get immediate medical care, a stent in a clogged artery, and a new lease on life.  While everyone was glad he was already at home recup-erating on the day of the parade, we all missed him and he was very much on all our minds through-out the day.  Be well, and we’ll see you at #10, Jimmy!

The initial planning for this year’s parade was delayed somewhat by planning for the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of St. Stanislaus Memorial Post #1771 on March 14th, 2009 at Rovnak’s Princess Manor on Nassau Avenue.  Many of the Parade Committee Members were involved in planning for that major event as well.  Immediately following the anniversary dinner, plans for the 9th annual parade were put into high gear.  The committee had to resist the natural inclination to look beyond the 9th parade toward the 10th Anniversary edition.

One of the first things agreed to was the fabrication and placement of a banner advertising the parade on the front of the Slovak Club, where it would be in sight of two bus lines (B-43 and   B-61), and folks coming out of the G Train station at Nassau and Manhattan Avenues.  Phil Ras took the lead on that and found a contractor in Long Island City who measured the available area, created the banner after committee approval, and actually installed it between the awning and the first floor fire escape.  As part of the deal, we would take the banner back to him each year and he would change the numbers on the date of the parade at minimal cost.  The sign was purchased and erected, but everyone agreed it was too small and that we should look at a larger one next year that would cover the entire awning.

In a conversation between Rick Kenney and Anthony Hughes, Rick mentioned he would be attending the dress rehearsal for the Mayor’s Inner Circle Dinner in March and would be among many print and media news personalities, to include Marvin Scott, news anchorman at WPIX11.  Anthony suggested that in view of the fact he has constantly supported the military over a number of years, he should be approached about being Grand Marshal.  Rick did approach him and he was genuinely honored and receptive to the invitation.  He explained up front that normally he and his wife go away with friends for the Memorial Holiday weekend, and that he would have to see what arrangements he could make.

After an exchange of E-mails over the next several weeks, Marvin Scott confirmed he would drive down from Millbrook, New York the morning of the parade and take his place as Grand Marshal, and then return upstate immediately following the parade.  He also arranged with the assignment editor to have a news crew cover the parade.  That would be our first television cover-age (a WPIX11 “exclusive”), and our largest audience to date.  The Post prevailed upon Frank Moley once again to act as Aide to the Grand Marshal, and he ably hosted him for breakfast, intro-duced him around and made sure he got into position in the line of march on each leg of the parade. A very short clip of the parade did appear on the Ten O’clock News, as promised. As it happened, Brooklyn cable news station Channel 12 also covered the parade and provided more extensive coverage and air time. We were pleased to have a photo and story on the front page of the GREENPOINT GAZETTE of May 27th, with more photos and the story continued on Page 3.  Thank you to reporter Khristina Narizhnaya.

Among the more prominent news items at the time of the 9th parade was the Swine Flu epidemic running through both private and public schools.  Schools all over the city were being shut down and sanitized as a precaution to prevent the spread of the infection.  Unfortunately, one of those schools was IS 318 in Williamsburg, and that would end up affecting the parade.  As usual, Jim Feith had negotiated with the District 14 School Band and Cheerleaders to appear in the early leg of the parade (only one way, as usual), in return for a donation for a pizza party.  The parade committee was advised by Deacon Carlos Martinez that his son Juan, a musician in the band, told him that the band would be unable to enter IS 318 to get their instruments and uniforms stored inside, and so the parade lost a major band and marching unit.  After the parade, at the wrap-up meeting, the committee voted to fund the pizza party any way, since it was through no fault of the students that they couldn’t march.

Despite the late start, many of the usual marching units committed to the parade.  This included several Sea Cadet and NJROTC Units; the Air Force JROTC Unit from Petrides High School in Staten Island; the Ladies AOH and Community Groups from Greenpoint, the vintage police cars and the bikers.  Anthony Hughes made contact with some police officers at his bar and they promised to arrange for both a pipe band and a marching band to join the parade, which would have given us a total of 5 bands with the ill-fated District 14 Band, the Navy Band Northeast, and the Irish Pipers from Staten Island.  As it turned out, the parade went off with only the two bands – the Irish Pipers announcing its coming up front, and the Navy Band making plenty of noise at the midpoint of the parade. The committee has made the addition of more bands a priority for next year.

New York Fleet Week 2009 featured a scaled-back port visit by only three U.S. Navy ships, the USS IWO JIMA, the USS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, and USS VELLA GULF.  Sailors for the Greenpoint Parade came from the VELLA GULF in Staten Island, and the Marines came from the IWO JIMA in Manhattan.  Jackie Dohrman and Karla Licht had to knock heads with the NYPD to bring the bus to the rendezvous point with the Marines that morning.  Too many people in charge created a scene of chaos as all the parade buses converged on the Manhattan passenger ship terminal pickup site. Unfortunately, due to other community relations events and the scheduled sunset parade aboard IWO JIMA Sunday night, it was a short day for most of the U.S. military, who had to return to their ships early in the afternoon.

However, an unexpected windfall appeared in the form of (5) Canadian warships which were visiting New York in conjunction with Fleet Week.  At one of the early Fleet Week Planning Committee meetings, Rick Kenney became aware of their visit and approached the Canadian Navy liaison officer and extended an invitation for the Canadians to participate in the Greenpoint Parade in view of the proximity of their planned berths near Atlantic Avenue on the Brooklyn waterfront. During on-going discussions and communications, Rick parlayed inclusion of the Canadians at all Navy League-sponsored events to inclusion in the parade.  Two weeks before the parade, the Canadians formally accepted the invitation, and indicated they would send a marching unit of (50), ten members from each ship.  They also inquired if the parade would like to feature the Fleet Chaplain, CAPT Liam Thomas.  Of course, the Chaplain was welcomed and encouraged to partici-pate. But then it was learned that the berthing plan had been changed and the Canadian ships would all tie up in Staten Island at the Homeport Pier.

A flurry of E-mails and phone calls to executive members of the parade committee resulted in approval to charter a 3rd bus, to go to Staten Island to pick up the Canadians. That meant two more bus riders, coupled with the loss of Jimmy Feith on one bus.  Anthony Hughes and Pete Gomez volunteered to man the extra bus.  The Canadians later cut down the marching unit to a standard 32-man platoon, but other personnel who would not march were invited to fill the bus.  The Canadians were under no time constraints as they only had to be back on their ships by 6:00 A.M. on Monday, when their ships were scheduled to sail to Canada.  Sailors came from HMCS ATHABASCAN, FREDERICTON, MONTREAL, PRESERVER & St. JOHNS.  Ironically, on the day before  the  parade, 2 Canadian sailors visited the post during a reconnoitering trip to Brooklyn.  They were welcomed by everyone who was at the Post cleaning and preparing for the big day!

Karla Licht once again prevailed on the New York City Transit Authority to provide an historic City Bus for static display outside the Post building.  This year, the city’s first Air Con-ditioned bus was on display.  The A/C unit on top and at the rear of the bus featured two enormous fans which made the bus look almost like it was jet propelled!  Oh, for the days of plush leather seats!  In the category of small world, the driver of the bus happened to be the Chaplain of the Transit Authority – and a former classmate of Archbishop Frette during their religious formation!

Once again, the local Starbucks store offered to donate coffee and pastries to the marchers prior to the parade.  At precisely 7:00 A.M., new Manager Anna and Tim, who joined us last year, arrived with several urns of coffee and an assortment of pastries, to include scones for our Canadian guests.  The Post augmented the pastry display with pastries from the local Angel Bakery, purchas-ed at half price, thanks to some smooth negotiating by Karla Licht.

The weather gods were good to the Parade once again, as the morning started off with a mix of sun and clouds, setting just the right tone for the parade. As the 9th Parade stepped off, the skies were overcast, but that kept the temperature down for the early leg of the parade and the Mass at St. Anthony’s.  The sun shone bright on the return leg, and turned up the heat during the commemora-tive ceremony at the Post.  Fortunately, units fell into place in front of the Post rather quickly, and the ceremony got underway and ended some 15-20 minutes later before the heat of the day became unbearable.

Despite several inquiries from the staffs of Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Anthony Weiner and Mayor Bloomberg’s offices, no politicians joined the parade. The Mayor’s Deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs, Ms. Clarice Joynes, did march in both legs of the parade, attended the Mass, and presented a proclamation on behalf of the Mayor during the Memorial Ceremony.  Immediately following the ceremony, as the parade dispersed, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz came to the Post and delivered a proclamation and a few remarks.

We were disappointed that Rear Admiral (Rabbi) Bill Kloner of the New York Naval Militia could not join us this year.  We knew we would have Clergy from the Roman Catholic (Deacon Carlos Martinez), Unitarian (Archbishop Henrique Frett), and Anglican (Captain The Reverend Liam Thomas) Faiths.  We have always envisioned our own version of the “Four Chaplains” in the Parade.  Toward that end, Rick Kenney went to the Al Rahman Mosque (Greenpoint Islamic Center) on Leonard Street and met with the Imam, Saber Alkilani.

After explaining the purpose of the parade, he invited the Imam to march.  Imam Alkilani gratefully accepted the invitation and he and his family marched alongside the other Clergy at the head of the parade.  The Imam even traveled down from an Islamic Conference in Connecticut to participate.  We acknowledge and thank Richie Feith (the Lizard) for providing personal security to the Imam the entire time he was participating in the parade. Fr. Robert Czok, Pastor of St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus, acknowledged the presence of the Clergy and Grand Marshal Marvin Scott at the beginning of the Memorial Mass. In his homily, Fr. Czok recalled his own time in the military and spoke of the challenges facing those in the military today.  After a blessing of the memorial wreath and Flag, marchers exited the Church to the strains of “My Country Tis of Thee.”

The parade stepped off, as usual, at precisely 9:00 A.M. and arrived at the Church at 9:20. Once again, the marchers were cheered on by a crowd outside the Peter Pan Donut Shop, and a crowd outside the Church.  Other than that, spectators were few and far between.  The Post’s Tony Olszewski hung a holiday-size flag from the fire escape on his building on Manhattan Avenue.  This year, it was joined by the red maple leaf of the Canadian Flag, which made our international guests feel at home. One of the Canadians carried their National Colors at the head of the parade, and that flag will now become a permanent fixture in future parades in recognition of the multi-national status the parade has now achieved!

Practice making perfect, the time it took to form up the parade both at the Legion Post and again outside the Church was noticeably reduced, indicating that returning units pretty much knew where to position themselves to fall in.  Engine Company 238 and Ladder Company 106 were also already prepositioned as marchers left the Church.  There were some incidents involving traffic that could have compromised the safety of marchers, but they were resolved with the assistance of the Police escort from the 94th Precinct and the Sanitation Trash Motorcycle Club (special thanks to Chop Chop!), whose members offered to assist with traffic control in next year’s parade.

Parade co-founder Eddie Wizbicki had spent the winter researching and shopping for a sound system adequate to fill Leonard Street during the Memorial Ceremony.  At his recommenda-tion, the parade committee purchased a sound system to include speakers and a mixer that was more than up to job.  Eddie and John Pieprzak spent a good part of the day before the parade running wire and measuring cable for connections and sound checking the system.  Everything worked perfectly until Eddie Wiz himself accidentally hit the off switch on one speaker while trying to grab a cigarette during the ceremony.  Way to go, Eddie!  Months of planning, and then……..!

In a planning meeting leading up to the parade, the subject of taxis for military stragglers came up once again and was a contentious issue.  The committee was just about equally divided on whether to budget money from parade funds for taxis.  To break the impasse, Jackie Dohrmann made the offer to donate any tip money he received while tending bar following the parade to the “taxi fund.”  He was immediately joined by Jimmy Feith and Donnie Marshall and the decision was made that taxi money, if needed, would come from the tip receipts, which were historically donated back to the parade anyway by the various bartenders over the years. There was also spirited discuss-ion about bartenders identifying parade staff, marchers and invited guests during the party following in an attempt to keep “freeloaders” out.  The decision was made to buy red, white and blue plastic wrist bracelets, which were distributed by parade staff to marchers and members.

BGEN Robert Wolf NYNM, Commander of the New York Naval Militia, who joined us for last year’s parade, had a schedule conflict this year and could not attend.  In his place, he sent his Deputy Commander, RADM John G. Ingram.  Admiral Ingram is also sitting as an Acting Supreme Court Justice, Kings County, in a Trial Part.  A Brooklyn native, RADM Ingram was well received and enjoyed taking part in the parade, marching alongside the Grand Marshal.

Also making its debut in the parade this year was a cute little feller by the name of Coastie the Robot.  The remotely controlled vehicle, the size of an old soapbox, is sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and had been sought after for each of the previous parades, but was always committed elsewhere.  This year, Coastie came with his transport and support vehicle in the form of a van.  He was accompanied by Coast Guard Auxiliary Commodore Arthur Reichling from the Coast Guard’s First District Southern Region Auxiliary Command.

Because COMO Reichling had to control Coastie’s movements from the passenger seat in the van, there was a last minute requirement for a driver for the van.  At step off time for the parade, almost every able-bodied person had a job to do in support of the parade.  Just then, Rick Kenney spotted Kevin Barrett arriving at the Post and prevailed up him to drive the van.  Kevin readily agreed and was happy to assist in the parade. Coastie only traveled the first leg of the parade, and Kevin helped the elderly COMO Reichling in loading Coastie back on to the van.  Coastie the robot was a hit with kids along the parade route.

Once again, all five military services were represented in the line of march by a Color Guard.  Special thanks go out to Cathy Santopietro at Fort Hamilton, and CAPT Angela Webb at the Air Force Public Affairs Office in New York City, and TechSgt Vernon Jacobsen of the McGuire Elite Base Honor Guard for assisting in giving the parade preferential priority among other invitations received for the day.

The newly reconstituted Sons of the Legion Squadron of St. Stan’s Post made their inaugural appearance in the parade.  Commander Pieprzak’s son Jesse, and Phil Ras’ grandson Michael, were outfitted with full Sons’ uniforms to escort the memorial wreath and folded flag.

Just prior to the parade, the Marine Corps Recruiting Station had to pull back the red humvee that appeared in the last two parades for a higher priority event.  Thanks to retired Master Chief Bruce Howard of the Navy Recruiting District New York, a shrink-wrapped Navy Seal van was diverted from Pier 86 at the Manhattan Passenger Ship Terminal to the parade prior to returning as a static display at the pier later in the day.

John Pieprzak had sought out and coordinated with Empire State Car Club, which was to provide six vintage cars for the parade, and with the owner of a local ’57 Chevy show car from the neighborhood.  Both agreed to appear in the parade with the proviso that if it looked like rain, they would drop out as a matter of policy.  Since it was overcast in the early morning, the vehicles did not participate.  Likewise, for the first time, the vintage NYPD police cars did not participate as promised, due to the fact that their coordinator, Glenn, was called up to work with the Mayor’s office that day. With the loss of the District 14 band and cheerleaders, and the various vehicles, the 9th parade was probably a block or two shorter that it otherwise would have been.

The Memorial Service was dignified and impressive, as always.  Master of Ceremonies Ed Wizbicki welcomed everyone and mentioned the VIP’s in attendance.  Archbishop Henrique Frett offered a heartfelt invocation.  Commander Pieprzak mentioned Jimmy Feith’s illness, the fact that he was missed, and wished him a speedy recovery.  Clarice Joynes read a proclamation from Mayor Bloomberg.  Marvin Scott spoke of the sacrifice of military forces throughout our nation’s history, and announced that he planned to spend his third consecutive Christmas holiday with National Guard troops from New York in Iraq.  A recording of the Canadian National Anthem was played in recognition of the Royal Canadian Navy participation in the parade, and the Navy Band Northeast played the National Anthem.  The wreath was laid and the Flag raised and lowered to half-staff.  The Staten Island Pipers ended the brief service with the traditional rendition of Amazing Grace.

Then it was party time, as usual.  While we regret that the U.S. military members had to return to duty on their respective ships, we were pleased that we were able to host the Canadian sailors who spent the day with us.  After a brief visit from Marty Markowitz and Father Czok, the food and the bars were opened.  Needless to say, the highlight of the afternoon was the show put on by the USO Troupe, three young ladies who brought the crowd to their feet several times, and who brought the house down at the end of their act.  During the show, they honored the World War II and Korean Veterans in attendance, and honored all the Veterans with a medley of service songs.  The DJ Salt, of Salt & Pepper, played solo until 6:30, much to the disappointment of the parade committee.  Once again, food was catered by Tommy and Dotty Stagg, assisted by Dolores and Steve Gateson.

At the final wrap-up meeting, the only criticisms of the parade were the shortfall in bands, and the reality that a lot of marchers were now getting up in years and could not make the walk.  The committee planned to work this summer on identifying additional bands, and exploring trans-portation for our elderly members (for example, motorized go-carts or rented pedicabs.)  Also, the use of wrist bracelets will be revisited next year as they did not deter “freeloaders.”

We would be remiss if we did not give special thanks to the folks who made this particular parade possible.

Co-Founders, Eddie Wizbicki and Jimmy Feith

Commander John Pieprzak of St. Stanislaus Memorial Post #1771, American Legion

Grand Knight Louie Gonzalez of Lexington Council #293, Knights of Columbus

Jackie Dohrmann, President of the Slovak-American Club of Brooklyn

Our Treasurer, Tony Olszewski (of the Knights!)

Our Maintenance Supervisor, Mr. Fixit, and Flag Displayer, Anthony Olszewski (of the Post!)

Our Beverage Committee:  Vice Commanders Carl Licht and Jimmy Hesse, and Frank Moley

Our Chief Fundraiser, Debbie Duda

Our Chief Negotiator for Parade Participants, Static Displays and Discounts, Karla Licht

Our Bartenders: Donnie Marshall, Jackie Dohrmann, Gloria Gurecki, and Theresa Zabiski

Our Bus Riders,  Parade Marshals and Exhaust Eaters: Anthony Hughes, Timmy Hughes, Sonny Osadzinski, Jackie Dohrmann, Karla Licht, and Pete Gomez

The Folks Behind the Scenes: Gloria Gorecki, Paddy McKechnie, Bob Pieprzak, Laura Pieprzak

Starbucks on Manhattan Avenue: Anna & Tim (and Donna Kenney for Arranging the Donation)

Our Top Tier Parade Sponsors:  Assemblyman Joe Lentol, Ken Munoz, Eddie Handley,

Florin Merovici, M.D.

Our Major Parade Sponsors:  Metro Fuel Oil, Apple Bank, Billy’s Locksmith, The Slovak Club, The PFC John Czachor Memorial Post, The Lions Club, the Green Oaks, the Ladies Auxiliary and the Sons of the Legion Squadron of St. Stan’s Post