Lt. Col. Mike Simonelli of St. James, dressed in his U.S. Army uniform, placed his hands protectively on his son Mikey’s shoulders as he recalled his recent years in the service.
In 2003 and 2004, he fought in Iraq during the invasion. Looking down at his son, who was playing with a small American flag, he described why his second tour to Afghanistan was more difficult.
“It’s harder and more difficult when you have a family,” he said. “The first time around I was a single guy.”
Simonelli was one of many men and women from the armed forces recognized for their service at the Memorial Day Parade in St. James on Monday.
While Simonelli said no one could fully understand the sacrifice soldiers and their families make unless you have walked in their shoes, he was touched to see how many people came out to thank him and others in the community for risking their lives to protect our country.
“It’s beautiful to see the community come out. This is why we do it, why we fight,” he said, gesturing around at the crowds of families gathering on the St. James Elementary School lawn. “So our families can enjoy this lifestyle.”
Residents lined Lake Avenue along the parade route, which went to the elementary school. Taking to the streets were members of VFW Post 395 and Sherwood Brother American Legion Post 1152, who organize the event each year. They were followed by school bands from St. James and Nesconset, Boy and Girl Scout troops, and many of the local police and fire departments driving their police cars and fire trucks along the way.
Doreen Fiore, a St. James resident for 29 years, said she attends the parade every year.
“We should be here to support our troops and our nation,” she said, waving two small American flags and cheering for the men and women marching by.
When the parade reached the elementary school, members from the VFW post and other veterans groups held a short service to honor the men and women who have risked it all in the name of freedom.
They paid tribute to those who lost their lives by placing wreaths in their honor and pausing for a moment of silence.
Post Chaplain Red Morgan from VFW 395 encouraged people to come together and offer assistance to the vets returning home from war, and to never take all that we have for granted.
“We see nations around the world struggling and fighting for what we have,” he said. “We should be grateful.”
Photo: The Intardonato family was one of many who thanked war veterans for their service during the St. James Memorial Day Parade. (May 28, 2012)