Long Islanders young and old remember war dead on Memorial Day

People gathered on May 26, 2014 with parades to honor military veterans and the fallen. (Credit: Newsday staff)

From Garden City to Montauk, in boisterous Main Street parades and quieter cemetery ceremonies, Long Islanders commemorated Memorial Day Monday.

In the Village of Amityville, aging veterans marched alongside Girl Scouts yet to see the inside of a third-grade classroom. Mayor James Wandell traded handshakes and smiles with visiting Babylon Town officials but reminded an audience of hundreds that the village of just 10,000 had sent soldiers to fight and die for "freedoms that are inherent in being American."

For Margaret Williams, standing on Broadway shortly before the parade stepped off, the day made for a "mixture" of joy and solemnity. She was proud to see her grandchildren -- Christina Abney, 7, and Christopher Abney, 9 -- marching, but was also thinking of a brother-in-law, David Williams, who she said died after exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and of two of her sons who'd served in the armed forces. "We have a lot of young men and women coming home who fought for our country," she said.

In Garden City Park, Jack Colavito, 93, a World War II veteran who was the grand marshal of the parade there, said the holiday allowed him the opportunity to pause and pay his respects to his fallen comrades.

"Every Memorial Day I remember them," Colavito said in an interview at the conclusion of the parade, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 120 of Garden City Park.

Colavito, a longtime Garden City Park resident who now resides in Flanders, is a member of Post 120. He said he participates in the parade -- he's been grand marshal for three years, said a parade organizer -- "to show respect for the guys who passed away, and the guys who served with me that didn't make it home."

Colavito said he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943, participating in military campaigns in Iwo Jima, Saipan, Tinian and the Marshall Islands. His son, Bill Colavito of Hauppauge, said his father earned a Bronze Star for his part in a rescue mission in Saipan.

Other residents of Garden City Park paid tribute to soldiers who gave their lives for their country as well, as a trumpeter with the New Hyde Park Memorial High School marching band played "Taps" during the wreath-laying ceremony at the war memorial on the grounds of Garden City Park Elementary School.

Earlier, Charles Fitzgerald, a World War II veteran, a past commander of VFW Post 120 and current parade marshal, said the post has sponsored the Memorial Day Parade continuously since 1947. He explained, "We are honoring the people that gave their sacrifice for this country."

Among the scores of people lining Jericho Turnpike was Jim Dunn of New Hyde Park.

"They gave a lot," he said of the veterans and the reason for his appreciation.

In Mattituck, a small-town parade went down Main Street, with local fire departments, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and high school marching bands passing streets lined with flag-waving North Fork residents. The East End Livestock and Horsemen's Association, with members riding horses, brought up the rear.

"It's a true country parade," said Harvey Arnoff, 71, of Mattituck. "Local people come out. It's part of the community."

Jean and Don Vazquez of Southold cheered on parade-goers from lawn chairs.

"It was wonderful. I'm glad to see so many people attending," Jean Vazquez, 83, said. The couple, who had lived in Smithtown before moving east 10 years ago, had three sons in the military. Now one grandson has just returned from Afghanistan with the Army, and another is training to be an Army Ranger, they said.

"We need young people to defend the country," said Jean Vazquez. "It teaches them untold things."

Added Don Vazquez, 82, a former Grumman worker, "You got to be tough as hell. "

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