As Tom Gilbride marches down Main Street in Islip each year for his town’s Memorial Day parade, he recalls his fallen comrades.
“The faces go by,” said Gilbride, 62, who served in the United States Marine Corps from 1970 to 1973. “There’s guys that I went to boot camp with who, because of orders … made it to Vietnam and some didn’t return.”
Hundreds of families took part in this year’s parade by either marching or standing along the roughly one-mile route, which stretched from Greenwood Avenue in East Islip to Islip Town Hall in Islip. As the veterans, volunteer firefighters, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and marching bands passed by, the spectators waved flags and applauded to show their appreciation.
Jim Muller, 47, an Army veteran from East Islip who served in the 101st Airborne Division, brought his son Brenden, 4, to the parade for the first time.
“I want him to understand the sacrifices that others made so we can live our lives in freedom,” Muller said. “We’ll come every year and as he gets older, he’ll know more and more.”
That same sentiment is something that Army veteran John McKessy, 73, of East Islip, talks about often with his grandsons -- John Vogel, 7, Joshua Vogel, 9, and Joey Vogel, 3. While watching Monday’s parade with the boys at his feet, McKessy explained that he was fortunate to have served in Korea during what was considered “peace time,” but said some of his friends’ children are now serving in Afghanistan.
McKessy said he hopes his grandkids take away from the parade a sense of “pride in country” and “remember the people who served and gave their lives.”
Following the parade, a tribute ceremony was held at the town’s veterans’ memorial. Speaking to the crowd, Islip Town Councilman Anthony Senft, a father of two young boys, told the parents in the audience to educate their children about the meaning of Memorial Day.
“Take your children to Pinelawn [Cemetery], take your children to Calverton [National Cemetery],” Senft said. “Teach your children about the sacrifices that men have made over the course of history, because that is truly the definition of America.”
Leo Maese, who serves as commandant of the Suffolk County Marine Corps League Detachment #247, which Gilbride belongs to, also spoke at the ceremony. One of his close friends, whom he had trained with at Paris Island in the late 1960s, was killed in combat three weeks after he arrived in Vietnam. He was only 19 years old.
“A lot of young men ... never had the opportunity to own a car, finish their education, fall in love,” said Maese, 66, of Commack. “Just think of how lucky we are to be able to do all that, because young girls and young boys today have given up that opportunity.”