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Long Islanders enjoy Memorial Day weekend

Cub Scout Thomas Kleppan, of Sayville, places a

Cub Scout Thomas Kleppan, of Sayville, places a flag to mark the gravestones at Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton. (May 29, 2010) Credit: Ed Betz

Long Islanders began marking the Memorial Day weekend Saturday by placing flags at cemeteries, gathering with family and friends and celebrating the unofficial start of summer.

Thousands of spectators at Jones Beach State Park watched vintage planes crisscross the skies at the Bethpage Federal Credit Union Air Show at Jones Beach. The annual demonstration of aerial derring-do features the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels military jet team.

The air show will be repeated Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., weather permitting.

3:30 p.m. Jones Beach: And the crowd went wild!

Ethan Hogan, 6, of Selden, was totally wowed by the display of acrobatics at the air show.

As he and his parents prepared to leave the beach, he held a small wooden toy plane and said simply, "I liked when the jets came out."

His mother, Kathy Hogan, 44, said, "Oh, it was great, beautiful. It was our first time here. The Blue Angels were the best."

Ethan's father, Chris Hogan, 41, said on Sunday the family plans to go to Belmont Park Racetrack "for the Family Day picnic."

"I loved it!" said John Davis, 48, of Ossining. "My favorite part is the Blue Angels."

As for the rest of the weekend, David planned to attend his niece's graduation Sunday from Marist College in Poughkeepsie.

Diane Zhao, 40, Manhattan, another first-timer at the air show, said, "It was great, first time here. The beginning of the show was impressive. The whole atmosphere feels like a big party."


2 p.m. Jones Beach: Look! Up in the sky!

The Blue Angels whizzed through the air at blazing speeds as people crowding the Jones Beach boardwalk tilted their heads back to watch.

Music blared over loudspeakers as the Blue Angel planes took center stage at the air show.


1:30 p.m. Jones Beach: Schumer's boyhood Blue Angel memories

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) reminisced about his Brooklyn childhood while reflecting on Memorial Day during a visit to Jones Beach.

"It means you think of the mothers and fathers who have lost loved ones and who have made, along with their loved ones, the ultimate sacrifice for us," Schumer said, speaking about the holiday.

Then he recalled seeing the Blue Angels when he was growing up.

"It brings everyone together, great afternoon, and it's not expensive," he said. "When I was a little boy, the highlight of my summer was to take the subway to Coney Island from Brooklyn and watch the Blue Angels. They would perform right off the Coney Island boardwalk, just like this. It brings back great memories."


1 p.m. Jones Beach: Memorial Day means family sacrifice, too

The Blue Angels supply officer, Chief Warrant Officer Clive Dixon, at Jones Beach for the air show, said Memorial Day is about sacrifice - not only by soldiers, sailors, Marines and flight crews, but their families.

"Memorial Day is one of those days that is set aside for recognizing the sacrifices that special military members provide to the country, but that also has to do with the sacrifices family makes," Dixon said.

"It's a tremendous sacrifice family members make. To me it is very gratifying for citizens to approach me, especially on a weekend like this and express their appreciation for what I do."


12:30 p.m. Jones Beach: Taste of summer on the boardwalk

In front of a hot oven on the Jones Beach boardwalk, William Sexton, 47, of Maspeth, Queens, husked freshly roasted corn for customers.

The oven was 450 degrees, Sexton said, adding he's "used to it."

"Excellent," he said. "Everyone's happy and very patriotic."

He said he had sold more than 800 ears of corn by 12:30 p.m. He was celebrating this weekend not only because it was his birthday weekend, but because he believes it's important to support the troops.


11:18 a.m. Commack: World War II vet recognized for his service

At the Commack home of Navy World War II veteran Frank Gaeta, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) awarded Gaeta four long-overdue medals for his military service.

One of the medals he received, the Asiatic Pacific Medal with three bronze service stars, was awarded to Gaeta, 85, who served on a minesweeper, because of his valor in four battles, according to a congressional staffer.

Gaeta, talking to the two congressmen, said: "I'm very proud of my country."


11 a.m. Jones Beach: Remembering and mourning the fallen

Visitors coming through the Field 4 tunnel at Jones Beach were greeted by reminders of what Memorial Day is really about.

Members of such peace groups as Pax Christi, Veterans for Peace and the North Country Peace Group were among some groups holding an observance for fallen soldiers.

They read the names, ages and towns of all Long Island soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were more than 5,000 ribbons, which organizers said represented all soldiers killed in the two conflicts.

Pink ribbons represented service members killed in Iraq, and magenta and brown ribbons represented those who have died in Afghanistan, organizers said.

"We've been doing this for seven years. Our purpose is to remind people that Memorial Day is to mourn our soldiers," said Sheila Croke of Greenlawn.

"We believe it's a day for mourning, especially in these times," said Judi Gardner of Huntington. "People are so separated, we want to keep the awareness of those who sacrificed and died. We want them home."

Through May 23, 4,384 servicemen and women were killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to figures compiled by The Washington Post. In Afghanistan, 1,072 service members have been killed, the paper said.


10 a.m. East Meadow: Marine helicopter demo wows crowd

At Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, weapon-toting Marines raced from four helicopters, jumped down to their bellies and surveyed the distance for possible enemy fighters, as the copters rose back into the air and flew away.

The crowd cheered.

For the demonstration's purposes, the landing area was a hostile zone. But in reality, the hundreds of Long Islanders gathered at the park were anything but hostile.

Wearing veterans' caps, American flag T-shirts - a dog even wore a Marine Corps bandanna - the spectators were thrilled to get a chance to see the cutting-edge aircraft and support the armed forces as a way to kick off Memorial Day weekend.

"We come out to support the troops and show the kids what we have in our arsenal," said John Pinto, of Merrick, who has come to the Marines' demonstration every year since it began four years ago. Pinto was there with his father, Lawrence Pinto, a World War II Marine veteran who was at Iwo Jima, and his sons, P.J. and Danny Pinto. "It's a real nice event."

Before landing in an open field, two Super Cobra helicopters, slate gray and sleek, circled close to the ground, sweeping for imaginary enemy fighters.

Determining the coast was clear, they soared off. Moments later, the huge and fearsome Sea Knight and Osprey helicopters descended, the wind from their huge rotors wildly whipping the surrounding trees' branches and leaves.

After the exercise, all four helicopters landed in the field and the fences were opened to allow the public to come aboard. Lines of onlookers, ranging from toddlers to senior citizens, snaked from each craft as patriotic music played on loudspeakers.

"It opens up a lot of eyes as far as what we do," said Sgt. Hector Garcia, originally from Brooklyn, who has been in the Marines more than nine years and has been deployed three times to Iraq.

As he spoke, a bystander approached to shake his hand.

"Thank you for your service," the man said.


10 a.m. Jones Beach: "Beautiful. I love it."

At the Jones Beach air show, the beach and boardwalk were packed with appreciative spectators as a team of Canadian CF-18 Hornets roared across the sky. Early in the show, a helicopter described as the only stunt chopper in the United States delighted the crowd.

"Beautiful. I love it," said Antino Rosario, 55, a mechanic from Hempstead who said he has been coming to the world-famous park for 30 years. "Jones Beach is the best."

While enjoying the sun and surf, many beachgoers took time to remember fallen soldiers and war veterans whose military service is at the heart of the Memorial Day holiday.

Lisette Granados, 28, of Central Islip, said she came to see the air show with her husband, Marlon, and their children, including daughter Brianna, 8, and son, Angel, 2.

"Memorial Day is basically a day to remember all the people who have done a job for this country, and to show the kids the history of this country so when they grow up they will have a better point of view," she said.

"My son is in the Marines, so it means a lot to us," said Adrienne Jerry, 46, of Mastic, an administrative assistant who was at the beach with her husband, Greg, 53, grandson Javin Jerry, 5, and many other relatives.

"I'm proud to be an American," Jerry said. "Not to sound so cliche, but it's true."

Donna Roberto, 49, a nurse from West Islip, was making her first trip to Jones Beach.

"Memorial Day to me is the beginning of the summer," said Roberto, who came to see the Blue Angels with her husband, John. "And also for our soldiers, to honor them."

Dina Bam, 10, of Massapequa, at the park with her father, Michael, said her favorite thing about Memorial Day is getting a day off from school.

"I wanted to see the air show, and I just like to come here to the beach," Dina said.

On the boardwalk, vendors hawked their wares, and visitors gobbled up hot dogs and soft drinks.


6:30 a.m. Pinelawn: Boy Scouts decorate soldiers' graves

At Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, a team of Boy Scouts were among many groups holding ceremonies and placing small American flags at tens of thousands of gravestones.

Bob Chavanne, of Valley Stream, played a bugle at a solemn ceremony for a local serviceman who was killed in Vietnam.

"When I can give honor to the great veterans, I do so because without them I would not have the great freedoms," said Chavanne, who plays at military cemeteries for a project called Buglers Across America.

"When I play, I try to play with perfection because they deserve it," Chavanne said.

After playing "Taps" at the ceremony for John Warner, who Chavanne said was killed in Vietnam when he threw himself on a grenade, Chavanne spent hours walking among the graves, stopping to play for Medal of Honor recipients and at a section of the cemetery for Iraq War dead.

He said he always makes a point of playing at the final resting place of a Union soldier who died during the Civil War in 1862.

"There's a story behind each tombstone, some young, some old, and our heart goes out to each family," Chavanne said. "If I could, I would play at every tombstone . . . I do it for the souls to let them know that somebody really cares out there."


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