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Huge crowds mean record Jones Beach traffic

Planes perform tricks over Jones Beach during the

Planes perform tricks over Jones Beach during the air show, Sunday. (May 30, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

A soaring blue sky with summery temperatures set the stage Sunday for a sparkling Memorial Day weekend day, with huge crowds packing Jones Beach for an air show and communities turning out in force for patriotic parades and holiday runs.

A sea of bright, multicolored umbrellas and beach towels stretched for more than 4 miles along Jones Beach, part of what state parks officials estimated was a record crowd of 236,000 for the Bethpage Federal Credit Union Air Show.

World War II bombers, fuel supply planes, aerobatic fliers and loud jet engines roared thousands of feet above spectators, many of them watching from vehicles parked on the shoulders and medians lining Ocean Parkway.

Untold numbers were turned away from the show after 10:45 a.m., when officials decided the park was at capacity.

"They began arriving at sunrise, from the moment we opened the gates," said George Gorman Jr., deputy regional director for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The Derista family from Demarest, N.J., arrived at 8 a.m. and felt lucky to get a spot on the beach. "The amount of people is astonishing," said Joe Derista, 47, a native of Woodmere, as his son Aidan, 7, and daughter Hunter, 4, played Wiffle ball and built trenches in the sand.

But amid the sun and revelry, Long Islanders also took time to remember those who have died in military service. Some paid their respects at parades and ceremonies. Others watched planes soar overhead during the Bethpage Federal Credit Union Air Show, and were reminded of the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform.

"This really drives home the meaning of Memorial Day," said Ed Walz, 43, an Army veteran and retired New York City police officer from Lindenhurst.

Walz and his wife and daughter arrived at Jones Beach at 7 a.m. to set up their chairs on the boardwalk for Day Two of the air show. "It instills a lot of pride in our country, especially for young people to see this - showing the capabilities of our Armed Forces," he said.

For Debbie and Michael Ravel of Mount Sinai and their two daughters, the highlight of the day was the 2 p.m. performance by the Blue Angels.

"I personally like coming because it's a nice reminder of the sacrifices the troops are making so we can live the lifestyle we do," said Michael Ravel, an electrical engineer.

Also with the family was his brother-in-law, Brian Randolph, an Army veteran from Farmingville. Randolph, 43, served in the Army Reserves and in Desert Storm.

"I've got a lot of friends still in numerous rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Randolph. "Wherever we go, people support the troops in their own way. You can see it."

Along Greenwich Street in Hempstead, children and adults in the St. George's Church band played "America the Beautiful" on steel drums atop a parade float.

Spotting an old friend in the crowd, Hempstead Fire Department volunteer Melvin Hill stopped his vehicle, leaving the caravan to wrap his arms around Teresa Wilkerson, 37.

"We used to march in this parade together," said Wilkerson, a Hempstead native. "He used to be in the drums [section] and I was a flag majorette. It's history!"

Her mother, Berlene Williams, 71, makes a point of coming out for the parade to honor those who have served in the military.

"It's something to remember," said Williams, who has three brothers who have served. "We're so proud of our police officers and firemen and volunteers because, if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be as safe as we are."

In Centereach, families lined up under shade trees along Middle Country Road to watch the community's Memorial Day parade.

Keri Columbel of Centereach held a small American flag as she and her 13-month-old daughter, Trinity, watched fire trucks and classic cars roll by. Her favorite part, she said, is seeing the veterans in the parade.

"These are people who fought for you and who don't even know you," said Columbel, 35. "It's very emotional, very touching."

The parade held special resonance for Katherine Walsh of Farmingville, who said she comes from a family of veterans. Her father, husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law all served in either the Army or Navy.

"I'm from a generation that remembers this stuff," said Walsh, who said she was "over 65."

She waved an American flag and clapped as one fire truck, then another rolled by.

Barely an hour after the parade began, the last marchers packed it up and the everyday traffic of sedans and SUVs resumed.

Joe Moscato, 60, of Centereach, said he would have liked to have seen a bigger turnout and a longer parade.

"We need to support our troops, our fire department," said Moscato, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era. "The more people who come here shows how much these people are needed."

In East Meadow, the United Veterans Organization of Nassau County and a group of about 500 veterans, local leaders and well-wishers dedicated two new monuments at Eisenhower Park to fallen soldiers from the Vietnam and World War II eras. Nassau Executive Edward Mangano spoke at the event.

One memorial commemorates the Fifth Marine Division of World War II. The other is dedicated to the Vietnam War Veterans Association. Both are located at the park's Veterans Memorial Plaza.

Iwo Jima survivor and Marine Angelo Ciotta said he was glad to see a big turnout for the veterans event. He said he has seen greater respect for the meaning of Memorial Day - remembering fallen soldiers - in recent years.

"I think the school system is starting to do a halfway decent job of teaching [students] how freedom was won," said Ciotta, of East Meadow. "It cost a lot."

Hempstead resident James Merritte, a Vietnam veteran, said people should stop and remember the meaning of Memorial Day.

"A lot of people who aren't veterans, they see it as a holiday," Merritte said. "But we veterans never forget."

After the ceremonies, Pat Slattery of Plainview headed for Long Island National Cemetery, where her father, Peter Perreca, a World War II Navy veteran, is buried. Slattery, whose husband, Joe, is a Vietnam era veteran, said the couple visits the Pinelawn cemetery every Memorial Day.

"We're a patriotic family," she said.

At Jones Beach, a record crowd of more than 200,000 gathered to enjoy the beach and the air show.

The parking lots quickly filled up. State Parks police closed access to the Jones Beach parking lots at 10:45 a.m., spokesman George Gorman said.

On the beach, bright umbrellas and towels covered much of the sand. People tossed footballs and Frisbees or swam in the still-chilly Atlantic. Others craned their necks, shouting and whooping at the pilots' maneuvers.

Melville real estate developer David Windmiller, 46, flew his red H-540 jet in the air show, soaring thousands of feet above the cheering crowd.

"Today was great. It was a gorgeous, clear day and there were a lot of people," said Windmiller, who started flying as a hobby at age 14. He said the applause made all his practice runs - three times a day leading up to the show - worth the effort.

Shutterbug Lindsay Silverman was one of thousands thronging the Jones Beach boardwalk.

"When you see the planes and the beach and the people all in one shot, it makes it interesting and dramatic," said Silverman, 51, of Massapequa. "You have to be brain dead not to love aviation."

A senior project manager for Nikon, Silverman wore a Hawaiian shirt with old World War II airplanes printed on it. Despite the aeronautic thrills, he said he appreciated the larger significance of the day. "It's not just about coming out and having fun and barbequeing," Silverman said. "It's about paying tribute to our armed forces."

Long Islanders also marked the Memorial Day weekend with parades today in Inwood and Hempstead, as well as with a 10-mile run in Long Beach and a 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) run in Hauppauge. In Long Beach, 447 people participated, and no heat-related injuries were reported, according to the city's recreation department.

And while the weather was just about perfect, with the light cloud cover, National Weather Service meteorologist David Wally said the UV index is high - 8 on a scale of 1 to 11.

Traffic started early this morning. By 8 a.m., parking lots were already between 30 and 60 percent full and ocean-bound traffic was heavy on the Meadowbrook and Wantagh parkways, police said.

The backup meant that high school students Peter Rende and Briana Garritano, both of Sayville, sat in traffic for half an hour Sunday morning on their way to the beach with Rende's parents.

"I'm enjoying watching the planes go by and tanning here on the beach," said Rende, 16. "My mom and dad read about the show in the newspaper and thought it'd be cool to come."

He and Garritano plan to walk on the pier and swim. They said they wanted to pack up by 1 or 2 p.m. to avoid getting caught in heavy traffic later in the afternoon.

Gary and Khristie Hauck of Wantagh arrived at 9:45 a.m. to take in the air show and spend some beach time with their daughters, Jamie, 12, and Kelly, 3. It's the third time the family have come to see the U.S. Navy Blue Angels at Jones Beach.

"It's fun for the kids and we are enjoying the beautiful weather," said Gary Hauck, a software developer. "It's something different to do. You don't get to see planes like this every day," he said.

Jamie said her favorite was the Oracle plane - a modified "pit special" with specially shortened wings that help it roll faster.

"I thought the spinning was really cool and also when they turned the engine off and it stayed in midair," she said.

Khristie Hauck, an assistant district attorney for Nassau County, said the crowds weren't as bad this year as in the past, but the park was still close to capacity. "The kids will probably want to go on some of the slides, but we'll see how long the lines are," she said.

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