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A weekend of barbecues, military displays

The crowd at Eisenhower Park tours the MH-53E

The crowd at Eisenhower Park tours the MH-53E Sea Dragon Helicopter during Fleet Week 2012's "Raid New York" event. (May 26th, 2012) Credit: Albert J. Orlando

Thousands of Long Islanders flooded Nassau and Suffolk parks Saturday for the unofficial kickoff to summer, firing up barbecues, soaking up some sun and taking in a pair of military displays.

Under picture-perfect blue skies, Navy and Marine helicopters landed at Kite Field in East Meadow's Eisenhower Park for an aerial and land demonstration as part of Fleet Week.

"It's a chance for my kids to appreciate the men and women of the armed forces who protect our country every day," said Andrew Schwartz, 37, of East Meadow, who brought his son, Alex, 7, and daughter, Erin, 4.

A crowd of roughly 6,000 held up smartphones and video cameras as three Navy helicopters, including the military's largest -- the 100-foot-long MH-53E, nicknamed Sea Dragon -- slowly descended onto the field.

The thrust of the propellers sent leaves scattering and whipped hats and sunglasses off the heads of onlookers.

Capping the demonstration, members of the Navy's Explosive Ordinance Disposal team rappelled 30 feet down from another helicopter onto the field.

Two hours later, four Marine helicopters, led by the new MV22 Osprey, landed on the field. The Marines, all of whom returned in December from tours in Afghanistan, performed an assault tactics demonstration for the crowd.

"Kids are getting an opportunity to see something they've never seen before," said Lt. Cmdr. Lauren Majchrzak, who piloted the Sea Dragon.

Families had an opportunity to explore the planes and take photos with the crew.

"I like the missiles and the horsepower," said 8-year-old Robert Lupo of Levittown who showed up in heavy camouflage gear, along with his friend, Matthew Esposito, 8.

For others, like Vietnam veteran Danny Angeles, 64, of Rego Park, the Memorial Day weekend festivities are a time to remember those who did not make it home.

"I think about them all the time," said Angeles, who came with his two grandsons. "And I dedicate today to them."

Farther east, at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, volunteers placed flags next to grave markers.

And at Sunken Meadow State Park, a quiet morning heated up around noon as the beach filled with people and barbecues started to sizzle.

Eric Galo, 20, of Amityville, said he comes to the park every year for the holiday weekend with about 20 family members.

"Every year, we look forward to this," Galo said.

Jonathan Belizaire, 25, and his girlfriend, Angie Carpenter, 31, enjoyed a low-key barbecue in the shade.

The Brentwood couple said they often come to the park for walks and decided to take advantage of the nice weather.

"We're just grillin' and chillin'," Belizaire said.

With Candice Ruud

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