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Long Beach honors veterans as it recovers from Sandy

Vietnam veteran Howard Kalachman holds the American flag

Vietnam veteran Howard Kalachman holds the American flag during a small ceremony to commemorate Veterans Day outside City Hall in Long Beach. (Nov. 12, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

For a few moments, the din of whirring generators in downtown Long Beach was drowned out by the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Despite the still-visible scars of superstorm Sandy -- rows of portable toilets lining City Hall plaza, rivers of water pumping from flooded businesses and running through streets, queues of residents lining up for free food from relief agencies -- the city's Veterans Day ceremony went on Monday.

"This is special because it shows that even in tragedy, like we have here, people still take time to honor veterans," said Dan MacPhee, a Long Beach resident and commander of the local VFW post. "It's a launching pad to recovery."

About 150 veterans, local officials, police officers, firefighters and residents met outside City Hall for the ceremony.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said during the ceremony that it was important to pause to honor veterans while the county works to "restore life as we once knew it."

Many Long Beach residents still lack power, local phone service is spotty, and water and sewer services were only recently restored.

"Here in Nassau County when we face incredible devastation, devastation never thought of by our residents," Mangano said. "We have come together in that American spirit."

The event was hastily organized over the weekend, city officials said, and was not formally announced until Sunday night. Even rounding up veterans was a challenge, said Howard Kalachman, a leader of the local American Legion post. "I tried to reach people by phone and most of the phones are still out," he said.

City Manager Jack Schnirman said the event also was intended to honor "people in every different kind of uniform" who have aided in the city's recovery since Sandy.

"Starting in the dead of night in the storm, they rushed to our aid," he said.

During the ceremony, MacPhee commended the resolve of the city's residents -- veterans and civilians alike.

"As soon as the flooding subsided, people were back out, putting up American flags," he told the crowd. "We're not quitters."

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