Members of the U.S. Navy airlifted into Eisenhower Park on Saturday, bringing the annual Fleet Week festivities to those who couldn’t make it to New York Harbor.
“It’s to bring the Navy to the people, and kind of talk about our life, why we joined, all the cool stuff we get to do, and then just to have an awesome sense of community with people in the tristate area,” said Justin Vitalis, 32, a Navy lieutenant and helicopter representative, Carrier Air Wing Three.
The weeklong series of parties and exhibitions kicked off Wednesday with a parade of ships and the arrival of more than 2,300 sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen in the Manhattan harbor.
The East Meadow park event was expected to draw more than 3,000 people by day’s end, said David Todd, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic public affairs specialist.
It began with service members descending by rope from a helicopter before landing the aircrafts — a Sea Stallion and two Seahawks — in the park.
Alise Sullivan, 60, of Levittown, read about Fleet Week in the newspaper and decided to take her grandsons, Lex Moncada, 8, and Gavin Pizzo, 5, brothers from Queens, who even dyed their hair red and blue.
“I think it’s really exciting because we get to see what happens, like how the helicopters land and we can see what it looks like inside,” said Lex, who hopes to be a pilot when he grows up.
Justin Vujeva, 6, of Huntington, was especially excited to be so close to the aircrafts. “It’s just a once in a life moment,” he said.
But the reason for the occasion wasn’t lost on him. It’s important on Memorial Day weekend to support “the Army men that passed away,” he said.
Rocco Panichi, 74, of Massapequa, attends the Eisenhower Park aviation festivities every year.
“It’s a very dangerous world, and turning against the people that defend you is wrong,” said Panichi, an Army veteran whose 27-year service included being drafted for Vietnam and serving in the Gulf War. “If you love your country, show it. You don’t have to praise them, but just cheer them on every once in a while.”
The cheers Saturday went a long way for Vitalis.
“It’s great,” he said, pausing to sign an autograph for one boy. “It makes me feel patriotic. It makes me feel humble that all these people want to come out and take a look at what we do for a living. I’m just really, really grateful.”