Marking Memorial Day, in joy and solemnity
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Hundreds of Long Islanders laid their wreaths in Calverton National Cemetery Monday, as thousands more paraded down village streets and packed public squares in ceremonies joyful and solemn to mark Memorial Day.
In Calverton, Navy veteran Bruce Petry, 58, of Shirley, recalled his father, James, a soldier with the occupation forces in Germany during World War II, and his Uncle Harry, who'd marched on Berlin. Both died within the past five years, he said.
He'd come for them and thousands more who were strangers to him, their graves decorated for the holiday with American flags. "I just want them to know someone remembers," he said. "I remember."
Across from the post office in Sound Beach, where residents dedicated a granite wall with plaques for seven neighbors killed in combat from World War II through Iraq, Jimmy Henke, 68, remembered three friends from that tiny hamlet he'd hunted and hot-rodded with before all four of them shipped out to Vietnam: "It's something you never get out of your mind." He had other stops to make this day. "I told their parents I would visit the graves, and I will do it until I die," he said.
Organizers left open space on the wall's face. "God forbid we need it," said Bill Pellenz, 63, a civic association member.
It took seven years to raise the money for this memorial, less grand than what was once envisioned, but perhaps more precious because of the small sacrifices of residents -- the nurseryman who donated plantings behind it, the civic association volunteers who clean and weed and keep it beautiful.
"It's terrific," said Laura DeGennaro, 92, when she saw the plaque honoring her nephew Lt. Joseph DeGenarro, who was killed in Vietnam in January 1966. "I'm very sad -- he was an only child and he was only 23 years old. But I'm very proud."
Alongside DeGenarro's name was Charles Prchal's, who was 20 when he was killed in the same war in March 1969. His cousins came Monday from as far away as Pennsylvania. They remembered a baseball-crazy kid who volunteered to fight and left Long Island with full knowledge that he might never come back.
Meanwhile, in Bayville, where hundreds arrived early to secure choice parade-viewing spots under shady trees lining Bayville Avenue, Frank Buytard, 85, a Navy veteran who served in the Pacific during World War II, laid claim to an attendance record few can match. "I've never missed the parade since the end of the war," he said. "It's the highlight of my year."
A younger contingent of marchers gathered nearby, grasping American flags, fidgeting, giggling and posing for photographs taken by proud parents while waiting to start the 1.7-mile march. They were the 15 5- and 6-year-old girls of Bayville Daisy Troop 33, on the path to become Brownies and then Girl Scouts.
The Daisies did not wilt in temperatures that topped 80 breeze-less degrees. "They're six," said Bethann Wolfe, the troop's co-leader. "They could be out running around for five hours straight."
With Gary Dymski
and Bill Bleyer