Veterans, their spouses and community residents stood in a chill wind in front of Williston Park Village Hall on Friday to honor America's troops, sing patriotic songs and thank the military for guarding the nation's freedom.
William Vesely, 70, a Vietnam War veteran who organized the Veterans Day event, choked up as he described what the day meant.
"This is a day to honor the veterans . . . " he said, and then stopped as his eyes welled with tears. "A lot of friends . . . have passed away."
About 100 people gathered on the sidewalk in front of Village Hall as a small honor guard stood on a hill just above them and Vesely led the ceremony. One of the veteran's wives led the group in singing "America the Beautiful."
At exactly 11 a.m., the bells at the nearby Church of St. Aidan rang out with the tune of "God Bless America" as the crowd sang along.
It was one of scores of Veterans Day events held across Long Island on Friday.
Vesely, who was in the Navy and served aboard a ship that was in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam's coast, said that every year fewer and fewer veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War attend the event as their numbers dwindle.
Still, he said, "it means a lot for me to be here."
Another Vietnam-era veteran, Jim Shevlin, 76, of Williston Park, a retired physical education teacher at public schools in Flushing, said he came because it was a day "to honor our past and present veterans" and to "thank God for our freedom."
"We're still free, and hopefully we'll stay that way," he added.
Paul Ehrbar, the mayor of Williston Park, said he attended in part because "I'm very proud of our veterans. They put this country where it is today and they continue to move us forward."
Ruth Valentine, a Williston Park resident whose husband, Robert, is a Vietnam veteran, echoed his thoughts. "Without them we wouldn't be here today doing everything we can do."