Children waved American flags, neighbors struck up conversations and families enjoyed ice cream on a summer day -- all as Charles Harrison, 74, marched along the route of Sunday's annual Memorial Day Parade in Hempstead Village.
"The unity of all the people out here, everyone celebrating how great America is, this is what our country was built on," said Harrison, a Vietnam veteran who served as the parade's grand marshal.
Hundreds of people lined a mile-long stretch of Greenwich Street for the parade, which is 128 years old and organized by American Legion Post 390 and village officials.
The Wantagh American Legion Pipe Band played "Amazing Grace," the Hempstead High School marching band energized spectators with pulsating tunes and local cheerleader troops danced their way down the street for the hourlong spectacle.
"We're celebrating freedom and living here in democracy in the best country in the world," said Village Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr., a U.S. Army veteran.
Attending the parade has become a tradition for longtime village residents like Margie Ware, 60, who said she has seldom missed a parade in the past 40 years. "It's a way of saying thank you," she said.
Paying tribute to America's fighters is what drew Maryanne Meny, 51, of Medford, to the parade. "I love my country," she said. "I'm proud of all of our forces, whatever war, from the Civil War to the war in Afghanistan, they have served our country proudly."
Civil War re-enactor Bruce Weidenburner, 61, of Holbrook, said he and other re-enactors from the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War -- Moses Baldwin Camp 544, looked forward to marching in Hempstead's parade each year.
"I think a lot of people think of Memorial Day as a day for barbecues and beaches," Weidenburner said. "A parade like this goes a long way in allowing the community to take a few minutes to honor the sacrifices of our soldiers."