Hundreds gathered at the Kings Park Veterans Memorial Park on Monday not to celebrate but to remember.
After a parade down Main Street, Dan Ryan, commander of the Kings Park American Legion Post 944, led a memorial wreath ceremony at the park.
Al Mlodynia, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5769, said Memorial Day comes with a certain duty for veterans to remember the comrades they’ve lost.
“We who came back were given the task of keeping their memories alive and telling the story of why they went to war and never came back,” Mlodynia told a crowd of community members touting flags and fellow war veterans in uniform.
Keynote speaker Richard Garland, 75, of Kings Park, used his time at the podium to fulfill that duty. The Vietnam veteran shared stories of two childhood friends - Tom and Frank - that he lost to the war.
“Vietnam was not a popular war,” he said after the ceremony. “But they weren’t the ones saying ‘Hell no, we won’t go!’ They just went. They were great guys and great friends. I came back and they didn’t.”
The annual Memorial Day ceremony featured a cross section of the community - school children, war veterans, firefighters and ladies auxiliaries - hanging wreaths in a display that circled the flagpole and memorial stones in honor of those lost in war.
The ceremony ended with a round of shots fired by the American Legion Fireman’s Rifle Squad and closing remarks by Ryan, 66, a Vietnam veteran and a Kings Park native.
Ryan thanked the parents for bringing their children and said the purpose of the parades and the ceremonies across the Island were not just to honor the fallen veterans but to keep that respect alive in future generations.
“As we embrace the spirit of the men whose names are on this monument,” he said, referring to the war memorials that stand in the park, “they wonder, was their sacrifice worth it?
“It’s with this newest generation that expresses a love of God, a love of family and a love of our country that we ensure that our country will survive, our freedom will survive and the sacrifice was worth it.”
Photo: Veterans of the Vietnam war, from left, William Macchione, 63, of San Remo, and John Berger, of Kings Park, talk to a member of the crowd at the Kings Park Memorial Day observance. (May 28, 2012)